Many medical methods have evolved dramatically since their conception. Some seem outlandish and brutal, but they have contributed to our understanding of medicine and how the human body works.

Here are eight “then and now” medical procedures and methods to depict just how far medicine has evolved over the centuries.

1. Electroshock therapy

Then: Was deemed a treatment for mental disorders and caused seizures so violent that the vertebrae could fracture. There were many side effects such as memory loss and speech problems. During Ancient Roman times, the procedure involved electric eels placed on the cranium of the patient.

Now: Now deemed a treatment for severe depression. The treatment has far fewer side effects and electrodes are only placed on the right side of the brain to avoid damage to the left side which controls language and auditory memory. Anaesthetics and muscle relaxers are used to prevent violent contractions.

2. Anaesthetics

Then: Early anaesthetics were soporifics, dulling the senses and inducing sleep, or narcotics. These include opium, mandrake, jimsonweed, marijuana, alcohol and belladonna. Native American societies chewed coca leaves, which is what cocaine is derived from.

Now: Today, drugs given to induce or maintain general anaesthesia are usually gases, vapours or injections. Delivery of anaesthetics is solely by inhalation or injection, but usually both, with an injection to induce and a gas to maintain anaesthesia.

3. Defibrillator

Then: The first defibrillator was developed by neurosurgeon Claude Beck who was trained at Harvard and Johns Hopkins. He soon turned to cardiovascular research and surgery later on. Beck's defibrillator was a wooden box that sent electric shocks to counteract fibrillations through two spoon-like electrodes.

Now: Today, defibrillators have come a long way with some being implantable and battery-powered. The electrical impulse generator can be implanted in patients who are at risk of sudden cardiac death due to ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia. It can detect cardiac arrhythmia and correct it by delivering brief electrical impulses to the heart.

4. Bullet removal

Then: Back in the day, this came with a 71% chance of death, due to the lack of understanding of bacteria. A typical procedure included a bullet probe was before using an extractor to remove the bullet. A cauterising iron, amputation knife, bone saw, retractor and bone chipper are used to remove parts that could not be saved.

Now: Today, an x-ray is taken before using a scalpel to open the wound site. Forceps are used to extract the bullet and a dose of antibiotics is locally given. A simple antisepsis procedure is carried out, followed by dry dressing. It is also rare to remove a bullet now. The chance of death has drastically reduced to 1.5%.

5. Blood transfusions

Then: Transfusions then and now are not too different. Then, blood was stored in sterile glass bottles, but there was a chance of bacterial infection as the exchange of bottle corks exposed the blood to the air. Patients were hooked up to a pipe that drew blood from the bottle.

Now: Glass bottles were replaced with disposable plastic bags from 1975 onwards. The bags are sterile and sealed, reducing chances of bacterial infection.

6. Facial prosthetics

Then: Previously, prosthetics used to disguise facial injuries were made rubber, metal, porcelain and were often masks. But there were many problems were encountered such as painting the metallic surface with the colour of skin. Hard enamel was used eventually, but it was washable.

Now: Today, doctors use wax to create a mould of the intended prosthetic before pouring skin-coloured latex into the moulds to form ultra-realistic prosthetics.

7. Inflammation and the common cold

Then: Previously, inflammation and common cold were thought to be the result of too much blood. Therefore leeches were administered or a scarificator - a bloodletting device - was used. A carbolic smoke ball was also administered, claiming to cure a cold in the head or chest, a majority of respiratory problems, loss of voice, sore throat, snoring, sore eyes and whooping cough among many others. These often led to the loss of 700ml of blood on average and heart failure and infection.

Now: Today, there is still no cure for the common cold, but there are symptom relief medications as well as vitamins and minerals as supplements to boost the immune system. Hand washing is also recommended to prevent transmission.

8. Pain relief

Then: Medieval methods of pain relief included oral methods such as alcohol and opiates, which came in the form of pills or mixed with water or alcohol. Bite boards and physical restraints were also used in extreme instances of pain. For pain that could not be tolerated, chloroform was also used to knock the patient out.

Now: Today, modern anaesthetics are used, as well as pain relievers for milder forms of pain, including tylenol, advil and ibuprofen as the most common painkillers. Morphine and muscle relaxers are used as well. MIMS

Read more:
A closer look at the evolution of medicine across the centuries
10 most important medicines in history
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