Heroic medicine

Heroic medicine

Heroic medicine is a term for aggressive medical practices or methods of treatment, and usually refers to those which were later superseded by scientific advances.

It is not known who first used the pejorative term “heroic medicine”; but it is most likely that it was first used by US or British scholars of the history of medicine in the early years of the twentieth century.

Heroic medicine, in which the patient, rather than the physician (or the therapy) was heroic, flourished between the 1780s and 1850s. Benjamin Rush (1745–1813), who signed the American Declaration of Independence, and is considered to be one of the “fathers" of American medicine, and who had been trained in medicine at Edinburgh University (1766–1768), was a strong advocate of “heroic medicine”.

During the Age of Heroic Medicine (1780–1850), educated professional physicians aggressively practiced "heroic medicine," including bloodletting (venesection), intestinal purging (calomel), vomiting (tartar emetic), profuse sweating (diaphoretics) and blistering. Physicians originally treated diseases like syphilis with salves made from mercury. These medical treatments were well-intentioned, and often well-accepted by the medical community, but were actually harmful to the patient.


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