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The development of medicine and the search for the cause of diseases and their cure started with mankind. But it was a very slow process, with different milieus having different discoveries that added to the present outlook of medicine. The 18th century witnessed the continued search for the causes of diseases. While the old belief in the four humors was on the decline by the 18th century, the belief that diseases were caused by miasma thrived.



Cause of Diseases and Treatments

One of the most notable views of the 18th century was that which was propounded by John Brown of Edinburgh, and the theory said that diseases come in two different types. The first one is the asthenic or strong disease while the second one is the sthenic or weak disease. He also believed that there were two types of treatments, and they included the sedative treatment and the stimulant treatment. To achieve these, he mostly employed opium and alcohol. In search of the real cause of diseases and the best treatments, the 18th century witnessed very intense debates between the disciples of John and those of William Cullen on topics surrounding medicine.


In the field of surgery, Scotland and London took charge. This was because of the great works of John Hunter and his brother William Hunter on anatomy and physiology. This gave birth to the concept of surgical pathology. William delved into obstetrics, and because of his efforts, male obstetricians became active in helping women during childbirth. The most famous of the male midwives of that period was William Smellier, and he wrote a very strong treatise on midwifery theory and practice. During this era, Hunter also developed the theory of tracheotomy.


Vaccination came to be advanced in this period. Following the experience that Lady Mary Wortley Montagu had in the east, precisely in Turkey, she started the practice in England. They practiced it on smallpox victims, and the disease, which was massively disfiguring many people, was reduced to an extent. Edward Jenner, who was a student of John Hunter, took this to another level when he used cowpox materials for inoculation.

Public Health and Hygiene

In the 18th century, public health and hygiene were also given a serious look. It was during this period that the issue of health legislation was popularized, while the concept of keeping population statistics started at this time too. Attention to the health condition of the mentally ill was taken to another level by Philippe Pinel in Paris. He freed them from the chains and effectively eradicated the old belief that the insanity was caused by demonic possession.

Medical Education

Medical schools saw very huge growth within this period. The Padua medical school used to be the biggest in history. But the one established in Leiden grew to rival it at this period. It attracted many health scholars from different countries. One of the students was John Monro, a military surgeon, and he believed that his hometown, Edinburgh, needed such school. In preparation for that, he schooled his son Alexander and prepared him to be made the professor of anatomy in the school. It worked.




In the past, very lengthy prescriptions and large doses used to be the case. But it was in the 18th century that Samuel Hahnemann of Leipzig changed all that. He developed the system where small doses of drugs were administered from time to time, with the view that it would work the same way the disease spreads in the patient’s body. This system later became the norm in many places.


A lot of hospitals were built during the period under review. They include the Guys Hospital with the help of Thomas Guy in 1724. Middlesex Hospital was founded in 1745 after St George’s hospital in 1733. Bristol, Liverpool, York, Exeter, and Philadelphia in America all witnessed the establishment of big and significant hospitals during this period.

Areas that did not have the muscle for hospitals also got dispensaries during the 18th century. These came in form of charity establishments and poor people were offered free medical treatment there.


All in all, this century witnessed great developments in the field of medicine that helped shape it into what it is today.