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Take this ‘slug’ of medicine

Snail water

Medical historian Suzie Grogan unearths what today’s surgeons and GP predecessors were treating – and charging – in the 18th and 19th centuries.

From the relative comfort of the 21st century and the medical advances we enjoy now, it is both horrific and fascinating to learn about the conditions, concerns and ‘cures’ that were part of life – and death – for our forebears.

Some illnesses and diseases prevalent in the 18th and 19th century we rarely see today. Some have different names and many are now deemed to be minor inconveniences rather than life-threatening conditions.

Real progress was not made in the treatment of some of these conditions until the development of antibiotics in the 1920s, and some were still causing death and lifelong health problems well into the 20th century.

So what could the 18th and early 19th century medic hope to ‘cure’? In Medical Care and the General Practitioner 1750-1850, Irvine Louden states that the only specific treatments that we would consider useful in the 21st century are quinine (effective in treating malaria), digitalis (to treat dropsy, possibly as a result of heart failure), fresh fruit and vegetables (for scurvy and their obvious health benefits) and opium (as a pain relief, a sedative or even as a stimulant).

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