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Disease And Treatment In The Middle Ages

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Autor: reviewessays 09 December 2010

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Disease and Treatment in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages were tough times when it came to disease and medicine. There were numerous types of sickness and disease that flooded Europe during the Middle Ages. Not helping the situation, the medicinal knowledge of the people of Europe of the time was not up to par. Some of the diseases and illness that were running rampant during these times were pneumonia, leprosy, and the plague. The middle ages were a time of great suffering and death because of the abundant disease and lack of knowledge of the spread and treatments.

Leprosy was one of the greatest concerns during the middle ages. Many people feared catching this disease, and those who had this disease were usually cast out. These people who were called lepers, would normally ban together in their own colonies. They would usually be forced out of their families and marriages unless they would accompany the diseased into the leper community (Krzywicka). This was one of the most feared diseases in Western Europe of the time. "In France, alone, there were 2,000 such colonies in the 11th-13th centuries" (www.medieval-life.net). This would probably led to some of the sufferers falling into a depression when the disease controls their social life, ending connection in most cases with friends and family (Krzywicka). Leprosy had some terrible symptoms. Lepers suffered nerve endings dying off under patches of dried skin, discharge from the nose, painful ulcers on the hands and feet, and sometimes even the loss of fingers or toes due to the lack of feeling in the area. Bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae cause this disease during the Middle Ages (Vodopich).

The fear of Leprosy died out after the arrival of a new scare. The Bubonic plague, otherwise known as the Black Death or just the plague was one of the worst epidemics of Europe. This was one of the most devastating diseases of all time. The disease was responsible for the death of huge part of the population. It began during the year 1347, starting in the city of Constantinople and spreading out from there. The disease usually claimed a majority of an area that was affected (Krzywicka). Of course by the previous information provided it could be concluded that this disease was extremely contagious thus making it even more dangerous. It is greatly disputed exactly how many people were killed due to this horrible disease, but figures usually range anywhere from one third to anywhere to seventy five percent of the total population of Europe.

The Bubonic Plague and a variation called the septicemic plague was spread throughout Europe by oriental rats that carried infected fleas. Little is known to why the infection never seemed to affect the carrier rats. Infected fleas were being starved by the infection, so they began feasting upon the people they came into contact with. These fleas coming into contact with any human being would infect the human with the disease. These people were now carriers of the Bubonic plague or Black Death. These infected people would then spread the disease by coughing or coming into direct contact with another human being. However, this disease, since not being transmitted via rat would now be called the Pneumonic Plague. (www.insecta-inspecta.com).

Bacteria called Yersinia pestis caused the Bubonic plague. It was the cause for some of the wicked symptoms that normally showed within one to seven days. Some of the symptoms were general illness such as vomiting, fevers around 101-105 degrees, headaches and the enlargement of the lymph nodes in the areas of the neck, groin, and underarms (www.insecta-inspecta.com).

The pneumonic plague also takes one to seven days for the symptoms to occur. The main symptom of pneumonic plague was to cough up blood. Many of these cases went unnoticed because most people who came into contact with this disease often died very quickly. However, the septicemic plague was the worst; and where the Black Plague gets it's name. Most all infected died due to the high fever and skin turning black (www.insecta-inspecta.com).

One disturbing idea about the plague is the abundance of information that was gathered about it by numerous other people, and how they neglected to fuse their information together to search for a cure or treatment.

"The position of a medieval doctor faced with Black Death was that of certainty that the air surrounding the infected area is at fault. Because the Plague would attack a particular region, kill off everyone within it, and then move on to an adjacent region, the circulating and moving air was blamed for the deathsВ…Details of the symptoms were gathered by many in literary forms, yet surprisingly, nobody bothered to put together all the information and logically analyze the occurrences at hand."

This lack of knowledge about the Black Death did not just end there, the Middle Ages were a time of medical stupor and medical ignorance.

The knowledge, practices, and medical advances that had been made in the previous civilizations for some reason had no effect on the medical processes of the Middle Ages.

Most of the people in Middle Ages thought that sickness and disease were caused as a punishment for sinful behavior (www.historylearningsite.co.uk). Others thought that diseases were passed through bad odors, thus many people used fragrances to aid in their immunity.

Blood letting was also another way to cure a sickness in the Middle Ages. This process was the product of the belief that an illness manifested because of excess amount of blood in someone's system. This problem was solved by using either a leech or a sliced vein to extract blood from the afflicted person, depending upon the severity of the illness. Astrology was also considered when trying to cure the ailments of a person. In the bloodletting process astrology determined where people should have blood extracted according to their astrological sign (www.historylearningsite.co.uk).

Another practice of the medical field in the Middle Ages was the Humors. It was expected that a person needed a good balance of all four of these things to remain in good health. The four Humors were supposed to be the four key elements of the human body. They included phlegm, black bile, yellow bile, and blood (Krzywicka).

"Such balance and classification of the world was of utmost importance, hence the balance of humors within a human body was necessary for health. Balance of humors in humans was achieved by diet, medicines, and phlebotomy (blood-letting)" (Krzywicka).

Surgeries during the Middle Ages were very crude. They had not yet perfected the idea of anesthesia. Some types of "anesthesia" were used however. These potions were called dwales and were constructed of different mixtures of random ingredients to induce sleep or act as a painkiller. These potions were usually quite dangerous and potentially very lethal(Krzywicka).

The Middle Ages were frightening times considering the diseases with respect to the medical knowledge of the time. Many people who discovered they had any of the diseases were at a high risk of death. The Black Plague and Leprosy were the two greatest epidemics of the Middles Ages. They were virtually unstoppable because of the lack of medicinal knowledge.