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Early Medicine and Surgery

The origins of medicine lie with the origins of civilization itself . People in early civilizations across the world attempted to explain the reasons for disease and create treatments . China has a strong tradition in using herbs in medicine and many of the earliest ideas still resonate today .

Medical customs used to be handed down by word of mouth , but organized medicine began properly with the written word . The earliest known medical texts date from around 2000 BCE in China and Egypt .

Origins of medicine and surgery

Medicine had almost certainly been established in China by the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE , when the Yellow Emperor purportedly composed the Huangdi Neijing or Basic Questions of Internal Medicine . This document ( much expanded 3,000 years later ) formed the basis of traditional Chinese medicine , which became mainstream throughout much of Asia . Practitioners diagnosed and treated disorders based on the interplay between humans and their environment , using techniques such as meditation and acupuncture . In the same millennium , in c.2600 BCE in ancient Egypt , Imhotep ( a great polymath and architect of the pyramids ) was revered as a god of medicine and healing . The Edwin Smith Papyrus from c.1700 BCE is arguably based on Imhotep's texts . The world's oldest surgical document , it is remarkably lacking in magical thinking with reference to diagnosis , treatment and prognosis of disease . Two centuries later in c.1500 BCE a Babylonian text , the Diagnostic Handbook relers , perhaps , to the earliest physician - it suggests that a figure called Urlugaledin practised primitive surgery way back in 4000 BCE . The roots of the Ayurvedic ( meaning Life of Science " ) system of medicine are found in the Indus Valley even further back , possibly as early as 9000 BCE . This forms the basis of traditional Indian medicine today . It advocated a healthy lifestyle that prescribed herbalism , massage , and yoga . Its written records , such as the Sushruta - samhita text on surgery , appeared later , from c.500 BCE . This particular text refers to invasive practices that took place , including plastic surgery , cataract surgery , and even Caesarean sections .


It is tradition that all physicians take the Hippocratic Oath , a guiding set of duties , which formed part of the Hippocratic Corpus , the texts from the Hippocratic School of ancient Greece . It is thought that Hippocrates himself wrote the oath , but it is likely that many contributed to the text . In the original version ( see right ) , the oath swearer includes a debt of gratitude to their medical teacher , a promise that they will live a " pure " life and that they will preserve the confidentiality of the people in their care . Today the oath has been updated and modified in certain countries , for example , with the omission of clauses that forbid pregnancy termination .

Ancient Greek medicine

In 700 BCE the first Greek medical school opened at Cnidus . Ancient Greek medicine , like that in Egypt and India , placed emphasis on control of diet , lifestyle , and hygiene . It was 300 years later that Hippocrates established his own medical school on Kos . He described many diseases for the first time and introduced lasting medical terms , such as " acute " for an illness that is sharp and brief , and " chronic " for one that builds up slowly over time . The Hippocratic School rejected supernatural causes in favour of seeking the physical causes of disease . The school emphasized care and prognosis , and encouraged thorough case studies , making it the forerunner of clinical medicine . Hippocrates also championed the idea of humourism , which stated that the body contained four basic humours ( fluids ) : black bile , phlegm , yellow bile , and blood . Moods and illnesses were attributed to imbalances of the humorous . Hippocrates ' student , the Greek physician Galen ( 129 - c.216 CE ) reinforced this idea with the belief that blood was continually made in the body and could stagnate . This encouraged the dubious practice of bloodletting , which involved the withdrawal of a large volume of blood in an effort to redress any imbalance in the humorous . It wasn't until 1543 that a Flemish anatomist , Andreas Vesalius see pp.72-73 ) , disproved many of Galen's theories .

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