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Victorian Medical Practices

The world of medicine during the Victorian era includes both medical practitioners who believed in bloodletting as a cure for their patients as well as visionary doctors who made amazing discoveries regarding disease. Ancient beliefs such as the theory of the four humors were slowly disappearing in the face of scientific facts. Looking back at the practices during the Victorian era is an effective way to judge the tremendous advancements made in medical science.   

Practitioners in the Victorian Era

A person who practiced medicine in the Victorian era did not always possess a degree from a university. There were doctors with formal educations tending to patients as well as apothecaries freely dispensing medical advice. Furthermore, homemade remedies passed between neighbors. In the Victorian era, a person could look to a great many people in their search for relief. Unfortunately, some of the people who claimed to have medical knowledge ended up causing an ill person more harm than good.

Scientific Theory of the Victorian Era

The Victorian era was a time of new theories and medical breakthroughs. For instance, scientists were learning more about germs and the causes of illness. The importance of maintaining sanitary conditions in hospitals was becoming clearer thanks in part to the work of Florence Nightingale. There were also changes in the types of anesthesia used in surgery.

Common Treatments of the Victorian Era

Today, we know that many of the painkillers routinely used in the Victorian era can be very harmful or deadly to a patient. The medical practitioners in the 19th century were not yet aware of the dangerous nature of some of these drugs used as traditional remedies or painkillers.

Life Expectancy and Infant Mortality

In the Victorian era, the infant mortality rate was much higher than it is today. Poor nutrition, infections, and illness were just some of the reasons for the high mortality rate in infants. Furthermore, the life expectancy of a person living in the Victorian era was also much lower than today. Breakthroughs in fighting disease, better nutrition, and advances in technology are a few of the reasons why people live longer today than in the nineteenth century. 

Cultural Influences and Beliefs Regarding Medicine in the Victorian Era

Some medical practitioners of the Victorian era allowed their beliefs to influence their decisions on how to treat a patient. Some continued to believe that balancing the four humors in a patient's body would make them well again. A doctor who relied on this theory in his practice would employ methods such as bloodletting to bring the types of humors in the blood of a sick person into harmony again. Not surprisingly, this method would often cause the sick person to experience further weakness.

  • 19th Century Medicine: A description of some of the influences and beliefs that affected medical practices in the 19th century.
  • History of Medicine: An overview of the different periods throughout medical history, which influenced some of the practices used in the 19th century. 

Many significant advances in the field of medicine took place in the Victorian era, however there were still some physicians practicing outdated theories of medicine. Fortunately, many doctors and other medical professionals of the 19th century had the courage to step forward to challenge longstanding, harmful medical beliefs and practices.  

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