Ancient Egyptian Medicine Term Paper

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Egyptian medicine. There are eight references used for this paper.

Civilizations throughout the years have dealt with disease and illness in numerous ways. It is interesting to look at the Ancient Egyptians and determine how they practiced medicine during their time and how it relates to modern medicine. It is also important to examine the materials or tools involved in their medical practices, major medical discoveries, and methods used by physicians to heal patients.

Discoveries

The Ancient Egyptians made "several major medical discoveries and began treating diseases in a physical manner alongside older spiritual cures. Though much of the advancement in medical knowledge and practice was a side effect of religious ceremonies, the effect on public health and knowledge of the human body was tremendous. Fuelled by a desire to enter the afterlife, Egyptian knowledge of the workings of the body encompassed new areas of medicine ranging from a basic understanding of anatomy to the introduction of some surgical skills (www.schoolshistory.org.uk/ancientegypt.htm)."

Practices of Medicine

In Ancient Egypt, the physicians were known for their advanced medical practices. The Ancient Egyptians physicians performed a number of practices which "ranged from embalming, to faith healing to surgery, and autopsy. There was not the separation of Physician, Priest and Magician in Egypt. It would not be unusual for a patient to receive a bandage for a dog bite, for example, a paste of berries and honey and an incantation said over the wound as well as a magical amulet for the patient to wear, as healing was an art that was addressed on many levels (crystalinks.com/egyptmedicine.html)."

Physicians and Priests

One of the most famous physicians is Imhotep, who was also a designer of Pyramids in Ancient Egypt. There were numerous methods in which patients were treated by physicians, but "much of their practice was based upon religious belief, as physicians were also priests. It was common for different priests to act as physicians for different parts of the body, in much the same way that doctors specialize now, as they believed that different gods governed different sectors of the human body (www.schoolshistory.org.uk/ancientegyptianmedicine.htm)."

Embalming and Autopsies

Ancient Egyptians created the processes of embalming and autopsies, which are still used today in modern medicine. It was common for the embalmer to examine, or perform an autopsy on, "the body for a cause of the illness which killed it. The use of surgery also evolved from a knowledge of the basic anatomy and embalming practices of the Egyptians. From such careful observations made by the early medical practitioners of Egypt, healing practices began to center upon both the religious rituals and the lives of the Ancient Egyptians (crystalinks.com/egyptmedicine.html)."

Rituals

The Ancient Egyptians believed that the "prescription for a healthy life meant that an individual undertook the stringent and regular purification rituals, which included much bathing, and often times shaving one's head and body hair, and maintained their dietary restrictions against raw fish and other animals considered unclean to eat (emuseum.mnsu.edu/prehistory/egypt/dailylife/medicine.html)."

While living in a purified state, the Egyptians would also "undergo dream analysis to find a cure or cause for illness, as well as to ask for a priest to aid them with magic, portraying that religious magical rites and purificatory rites were intertwined in the healing process as well as in creating a proper lifestyle (emuseum.mnsu.edu/prehistory/egypt/dailylife/medicine.html)."

Magicians

It was a common belief among the Egyptians that "most illnesses -- at least those caused by no obvious accident -- were the work of hostile powers: an adversary male or female, a spirit or a dead person, and it was for this reason that magicians, as well as physicians were concerned with curing the ills of the populace (crystalinks.com/egyptmedicine.html)."

The Egyptians were often plagued with bites from snakes and scorpions, and records show that due to the lack of specific ointments or balms, magicians treated these bites with spells and magical charms.

Keeping Records

There is quite a bit of documentation which shows that "in addition to magicians, useful in the villages and countryside, there existed a much less primitive form of medicine. Texts of the time frequently mention doctors, oculists, dentists and other specialists, including veterinarians (crystalinks.com/egyptmedicine.html)."

Detailed documentation was kept by "doctors and other medical personnel describing the condition encountered, and the treatment applied in all areas of medicine, including gynecology, bone surgery and eye complaints, the latter of which was very frequent in the dry, dusty climate of the country (crystalinks.com/egyptmedicine.html)."

The physicians maintained documents, known as 'papyrus' as a form of medical records. These documents indicated that the "Egyptians had developed an understanding of medicine: they provide information of cures to some illnesses and reveal that they performed surgical operations to remove cyst and tumors. They show quite clearly that the Egyptians had identified and developed cures for a wide range of diseases, many of which cures are still in use today (direct pressure on cuts to stop bleeding, for example). Such was the extent of Egyptian knowledge that there are records of over 800 medical procedures and remedies making use of over 600 drugs and a vast array of surgical tools (www.schoolshistory.org.uk/ancientegyptianmedicine.htm).

Important Documents

One of the most important medical documents from Ancient Egypt is "the 'Edwin Smith Papyrus' which contained information on 48 surgical cases and treatments. The 'Eber's Papyrus' describes everything from anatomy to pharmacology, and had information on 400 types of drugs. The 'Kahun Gynaecology Papyrus's name describes its contents (http://dragon.zoo.utoronto.ca/~x19901/Egypt/egypt_medicine.htm)."

Understanding the Body

The Ancient Egyptians had a mild understanding of the "workings of the human body, its structure, the job of the heart and blood vessels, including, the 'treatise of the heart' contained in the Ebers Papyrus. However, despite the process of mummification, familization with the human body was not as highly developed as would be expected and many fantastic and fanciful definitions and descriptions may be found in the Ancient texts. The Egyptians knew little about the existence of the kidneys and made the heart the meeting point of a number of vessels which carried all the fluids of the body (from blood, which is correct), to tears, urine and sperm (which is less so (crystalinks.com/egyptmedicine.html)."

Medications and Treatments

Ancient physicians prescribed many remedies that are still in use today. Then, as now, honey and milk were used for the irritation of the throat and respiratory infections. The physicians also knew how to "use suppositories, herbal dressings and enemas and widely used castor oil (crystalinks.com/egyptmedicine.html)."

Medications were used to treat Egyptians suffering from a parasite which attacked the urinary tract, and this parasite still plagues the Egyptians of today. The skull was often opened to relieve pressure due to head injuries, "migraines, which were attributed to dental trouble and accidents involving the eye. Teeth were filled using a type of mineral cement, and gum disease was also treated. Gold was used to bind loose teeth, and the jaw-bone was at time perforated to drain abscesses (crystalinks.com/egyptmedicine.html)." Due to a number of factors such as poor hygiene, dust and flies, many Egyptians suffered from eye disease. Medications were used to treat trachoma, which is still prevalent among Egyptians today, and cataracts. Physicians also treated a type of night blindness with animal liver, and "to this day, extracts of liver are still used for treatment of this ailment (crystalinks.com/egyptmedicine.html)." The Egyptians were skilled in performing bone surgery, and treated injuries such as "bruises of the vertebra, dislocation of the jaw, and fractures of the clavicle, humerus, ribs, nose and cranium (crystalinks.com/egyptmedicine.html)." Despite their skills, physicians knew they were unable to treat all diseases and called these such ailments "an affliction for which nothing can be done (crystalinks.com/egyptmedicine.html)."

Diseases

Physicians in Ancient Egypt were faced with many of the same ailments that today's physicians treat. They dealt with "the common cold, malaria, smallpox, measles, cholera, tuberculosis, pneumonia and varies kinds of malignant tumors (www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/medicine.htm)."

Due to a high occurrence of malnutrition, the Egyptians often found they suffered from stunted growth. The lack of vitamins and minerals led to a number of dental problems such as "dental abrasion, bad mouth hygiene, caries and abscesses (www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/medicine.htm)."

Egyptians worked in physically demanding jobs, which affected their joints and bones. Those who lived to old age were "victims of the same infirmities that still plague the aged like arteriosclerosis, arthritis and dementia (www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/medicine.htm)."

Holistic Treatment

The Ancient Egyptians practiced a "holistic therapy called ear candling. This practice most often was reserved for royalty and renowned warriors (healing.about.com/cs/earcandling/)." This treatment is used today by some Amish, and it is believed that this practice can relieve headaches, decrease sinus pressure, and improve hearing by removing ear wax.

Tools

The Ancient Egyptians used a number of tools which were extremely advanced, and many of these tools are still used in the modern medicine of today. Some of these tools include "knives, drills, saws, forceps, hooks, scales, spoons, and shears (www.elismorrowsch.com/classroomnews/lb6medic.htm)."

Herbal Remedies

The Ancient Egyptians used a number of herbs to treat various ailments. Some of these remedies include, but are not limited to:

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