10 Lesser-Known Practices That Used To Be Legit Medical Treatments

http://motherboard.vice.com/en_ca/tag/discoveries?Article_page=5 Source: Motherboard.vice.com

Modern medicine has come on leaps and bounds over the years, and this can make looking back at medicine’s past both alarming and terrifying. Many legitimate treatments from the past are, by today’s standards, completely barbaric and controversial, and it truly makes you value being alive today where treatments are more humane (but often still intimidating). Today we are taking a trip back in time to look at some of the most insane things that used to be legitimate medical treatments, so just keep these in mind the next time you complain about having to take a course of antibiotics.

10. Electrotherapeutics for Impotence

It is understandable that a man will try almost anything to cure impotence or infertility, but it was surely obvious that jolting your private region with electricity like Frankenstein’s monster was never going to work. This is what doctors believed back in the 1800s, however, when “electrotherapeutics” were seen as the cure to all kinds of health issues. There were kits sold, most famously the “Heidelberg Electric Belt,” which promised to bring back youth and vigor in men through the use of a belt with a constant electrical current passing through it. One medical historian, David Reynolds, stated “it is especially in the genital organs that electricity is truly marvelous. Impotence disappears, strength and desire of youth return, and the man, old before his time, whether by excess or privations, with the aid of electrical fustigation, can become 15 years younger.”

http://shirlandyou.com/2011/09/26/its-shocking/ Source: Shirlandyou.com

9. Cocaine

The word cocaine instantly conjures up images of Hollywood, Scarface and the ’80s, but for a long time it was not a drug for the rich and famous, but instead used as medicine. Doctors clearly had great faith in its healing powers, as it was prescribed to treat just about anything. Cocaine is, of course, now an illegal drug which is used recreationally, but in the 19th century doctors would prescribe it for depression, migraines, toothache and just about any ailment that patients came through the door with. It was not just adults that were prescribed this either, as shockingly there were even “cocaine toothache drops” for kids who had dental pain. This was in a time when the side effects (including addiction, risk of overdose, heart attacks and other risks) were unknown. Sigmund Freud was famed for both taking and recommending the drug for a range of ailments.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/pictures/9519906/Cocaine-tooth-drops-morphine-teething-syrup-and-other-Victorian-quack-cures.html Source: Telegraph.co.uk

8. Tobacco Smoke Enema

Today, “blowing smoke up you’re a—” means that somebody is deceiving you, but in the 17th and 18th century it meant that somebody was trying to cure you. A tobacco smoke enema was used as a treatment for pretty much any kind of health issue, and even as a resuscitation method for those that had drowned. A tube was inserted into the rectum which was connected to a fumigator and bellows, and when compressed this would pump smoke into the rectum. It was believed that the nicotine could create a stronger and faster heartbeat to encourage respiration, whilst the smoke was supposed to remove excess moisture and dry out the patient’s insides. When scientists discovered the harmful effects of nicotine and tobacco in the early 19th century, the kits were discontinued and the practice became a thing of the past and all that was left was the popular saying.

http://phys.org/news/2011-03-parents-tobacco-exposure.html Source: Phys.org

7. Red-Hot Iron to Treat Hemorrhoids

In today’s day and age, there are a few different ways in which hemorrhoids can be treated. In medieval times, however, there was a much more brutal and extreme way to treat them which will certainly make you glad we live in an age of creams, sitz baths and anti-inflammatory drugs (and surgery for extreme cases). In medieval times, it was believed that those that suffered from hemorrhoids were cursed for not praying to St. Fiacre (an Irish Saint), and those that were afflicted were sent off to monks to have a red-hot iron shoved where the sun doesn’t shine. Today, surgery is sometimes performed where a similar approach (to drain some of the blood and cauterize the wound) is used, but it is performed with advanced wires or lasers, which is a much nicer prospect than what you faced back in these rather invasive days.

http://imgkid.com/red-hot-metal.shtml Source: Imgkid.com

6. Heroine and Morphine for Kids

Bayer are a controversial pharmaceutical company whose parent company participated in Nazi war crimes, and they are also famous for trade marking “heroin” and using it as a cough suppressant from 1898 to 1910. Their scientists were not the first to make heroin, but they did discover how to make it and marketed it as a non-addictive substitute for morphine. Their “heroin” cough suppressant was widely used, even by children, even though it seems like a slightly aggressive approach to a scratchy throat. Additionally, at a similar time, children who were sick were often given medicine known as “soothing syrups.” These may sound delicious, until you realize that these syrups were packed full of morphine and sometimes other drugs such as heroin, codeine or powdered opium. Although it is likely these potent concoctions healed teething pains, giving morphine to children is a controversial treatment to say the least.

http://www.peachridgeglass.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/MrsWinslowsSoothingSyrup2.jpg Source: Peachridgeglass.com

5. Bloodletting

Bloodletting may sound like a ludicrous medical treatment, but it is one of the oldest and most commonly used treatments in ancient Greece, Egypt and 19th century Europe. The treatment was based on an ancient system of medicine where bodily fluids were regarded as “humors,” and they must maintain a proper balance for health. These fluids were black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. Blood was thought to often cause an imbalance, which would lead to all kinds of health problems. Therefore, doctors would drain blood from their patients by using a spring-loaded lancet, a terrifying tool known as a scarificator or even via leeches. This was known as bloodletting, and it was used to treat just about everything. So the next time you have the flu, do not drain your own blood as it did not work and unsurprisingly was harmful to patients in the overwhelming majority of cases.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blood_letting.jpg Source: Commons.wikimedia.org

4. Malaria to Treat Syphilis

Generally speaking, fighting fire with fire is a pretty bad way to approach things. This is particularly true in medicine, but there was no telling this to doctors in the early 1900s. For a while, the sexually transmitted disease syphilis was treated with an even more dangerous (and deadly) disease—malaria. The reasoning for this was that (sometimes) syphilis could be cured by high fevers (known as pyrotherapy), and malaria produced both prolonged and high fevers. The malaria could then be treated with quinine, but unsurprisingly many people died from the malaria or suffered from its symptoms (fever, fatigue, vomiting and headaches). The discoverer of this bold approach, Julius Wagner-Jauregg, won the 1927 Nobel Prize for Medicine. Fortunately for those that contracted the disease following World War II, the widespread manufacturing of penicillin allowed for a far less aggressive and dangerous approach.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaria Source: En.wikipedia.org

3. Trepanation

Many people fear going to the doctor, but throughout history many people would have especially feared these appointments in case they were prescribed trepanation. This is essentially drilling a hole in your skull, and many believe it to be the oldest surgical procedure, with many prehistoric skulls being found with these holes (some were found with skull structure healing, suggesting that some survived). Typically, trepanation was used to treat seizures, migraines, or in ancient times when somebody was acting abnormally (it was believed that this would let out the evil spirits). As it turns out, having a hole drilled into your skull without anesthesia did more harm than good. Astonishingly, some people have opted for voluntary trepanation to “increase brain blood volume.” This was most famously done by “Dr.” Bart Hughes (not actually a doctor), who drilled a hole in his own head with a dentist drill as a publicity stunt.

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2. Insulin Shock Therapy

Prior to the introduction of antipsychotic medication in the 1950s, a much more shocking and disturbing treatment was used for those suffering from schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses. This was insulin shock therapy, which was one of a number of physical treatments used in the early 20th century (along with cardiazol/metrazol and electroconvulsive therapy). Insulin shock therapy involved injecting patients with high doses of insulin to send them into a coma, and often this would result in seizures. The thinking behind the alarming treatment was that it would “jolt” the patient out of their illness, but the high risks (death and brain damage) along with the length of treatment saw it decline with the introduction of antipsychotic medication. Controversially, electroconvulsive therapy is used as a last line of intervention for major psychiatric illnesses and is the only shock therapy still used.

http://listosaur.com/bizarre-stuff/10-bizarre-medical-treatments-in-history/ Source: Listosaur.com

1. Lobotomies

A lobotomy is such a tragic and barbaric form of treatment that it is frequently seen in fiction, and it has been enormously controversial since its inception. Shockingly, it is not as ancient as many of the other entries on this list, and was practiced frequently throughout the first half of the 20th century. They did not decline until the introduction of antipsychotic medications in the mid 1950s. For those unfamiliar with the procedure, a lobotomy involves drilling a pair of holes into the skull, before jamming a sharp instrument into the brain and sweeping it side to side to cut the connections between the frontal lobe and the rest of the brain. This was used to reduce the symptoms of mental disorders from schizophrenia through to anxiety. Although sometimes accomplished, the side effects were severe and left people emotionally blunted and often brain-damaged.

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Jonny Hughes

Jonny Hughes

Jonny Hughes has been writing about movies and TV for Goliath since 2015.