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Topics related to the origins, timelines, and history of health and medicine are appropriate topics for this portion of our web guide.

Topics relating to the history of one specific area of medicine may also be placed here, but they can also be placed in the category specific to that area of medicine.

As long as human beings have been around, there have been healing practices. Medicine is the art, science, study, and practice of preserving health through drugs or surgery. While contemporary medicine differs vastly from the practice of medicine thousands of years ago, it might also be argued that the practice of medicine thousands of years in the future is apt to differ greatly from what we know today.

Although our earliest ancestors didn't leave any written accounts or medical records behind, paleoanthropological records have unearthed very early attempts to heal wounds and deal with illnesses.

It should be no surprise that healthcare has undergone various nuances throughout history. The many fields of health, wellness, and medicine are the product of historical ideas, trial and error, and the development and advancement of science, technology, and epidemiology. Throughout history, human societies have conceptualized and dealt with illnesses and injuries, developing concepts and strategies to manage them.

In ancient times, people believed that injuries and diseases were inflicted by spirits or other ethereal beings, and there are those who believe that yet today. Early treatments of illnesses and, to a slightly lesser extent, injuries were derived from plants and plant extracts, and many of these have carried through to modern medicine.

In early times, some cultures believed that health was largely influenced by the sky, light, cold, humidity, or other elements of nature. Other cultures thought that evil spirits were to blame for sickness and death. Indeed, throughout much of human history, people viewed illness, in particular, as magical or strongly linked to the supernatural, and the healers were those who could interact with these spirits; they were known as witches, magicians, shamans, or various deities.

The Egyptians were the first to maintain health records. However, while the Egyptians could identify certain diseases, they were superstitious and called upon the gods for healing. The priests were the doctors, and the magicians were the healers. During the same period, the Jewish people avoided medical practice, believing that God was the only physician. Thus, they focused on obeying health rules governing food, hygiene, and quarantine.

Similar beliefs continued through the Dark Ages. Significant diseases during this period included leprosy, smallpox, diphtheria, syphilis, measles, typhoid, tuberculosis, and various plagues. Life and death were in God's hands, or the gods' hands, depending on the culture.

The Renaissance was a time of considerable advances in commerce, culture, politics, and science. Yet, the bubonic plague killed approximately one-fourth to one-third of the population in Europe and the Near East.

The development of something approaching modern medicine began after the Renaissance period, in the 16th and 17th centuries. Apothecaries, the precursor to pharmacists, developed, prescribed, and sold medicine to people. Invented in 1666, the microscope allowed for examining infections and diseases. Stitching proved to be a safer and more efficient method for closing wounds than cauterization and other earlier treatments. Prosthetic limbs were developed during this period, and a fuller understanding of the circulatory system emerged.

By the 18th century, doctors had risen to the top of the medical professional hierarchy. Considered to be scientists, doctors were expected to have a good understanding of medicine and pharmacology, and their focus was on diagnosis, prognosis, and prescription. During the 18th century, a smallpox vaccination was developed, oxygen was discovered, and the stethoscope was invented.

During the 19th century, a greater understanding of physics, chemistry, and human physiology brought significant advances to the practice of health and medicine. The discovery of germs brought about the microbial theory that diseases could be controlled if the cause could be determined, which led to the development of antibiotics and additional vaccines.

Medical advances skyrocketed during the 20th century. Several new medicines were developed, along with improvements in safer foods, safer workplaces, and the control of infections. Organ transplants began during this century. Of course, new diseases, some of them exacerbated by science, emerged to cause major global health problems, and a greater use of addictive substances added to the challenges.

In recent years, we have defined three main approaches to health: the medical, holistic, and wellness models.



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