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Evolution of Bloodletting

By Echlin
  • 1000 BCE

    Bloodletting has been a practice for a long time.

    Bloodletting has been a practice for a long time.
    Bloodletting began around 3000 years ago with the Egyptians and quickly spread and became a very common practice. With many believing that bloodletting released the evil spirits that were making someone sick. Therefore most of the time bloodletting was performed by a priest.
  • Period: 460 BCE to 370 BCE


    Developed the humoral theory. With the four humors being black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. He believed that if all humors were in balance you were healthy but when they fell out of balance sickness occurred. Sometimes they would use bloodletting to bring the humors back into balance.
  • Period: 129 to 216


    Galen determined blood to be the dominant humor. As a result the use of bloodletting to balance the humors became a lot more common.
  • 1000

    Barber surgeons

    Barber surgeons
    Barber surgeons became a thing around 1000 AD. They usually cared for soldiers during and after battle. Since barbers were used to using razors and had to have a high level of coordination they were able to not only cut hair but also perform bloodletting, pull teeth and even amputate limbs. Fun fact the red and white strips on a barber pole represent blood and the bandages used after bloodletting. This would let people know that they were a barber surgeon rather than just a barber.
  • 1163

    Barber surgeons become more common

    Barber surgeons become more common
    In 1163 Pope Alexander the 3rd issued a decree that prevented clergyman from performing things such as bloodletting. He believed it didn't fit their role in society and that they were not qualified to do so. This led barber surgeons to become more common.
  • Period: to

    Dr. Francois Broussais

    He believed that fevers were caused by organ inflammation and that placing leeches on the skin over the inflamed organ would resolve the fever. He made the practice of local bloodletting using leeches popular.
  • Period: to

    Dr. Pierre Louis

    Dr. Louis questioned the effectiveness of bloodletting so he performed a study to see how effective bloodletting was at treating pneumonia. He found that bloodletting often led to a higher mortality rate. Due to this he determined that bloodletting isn't the cure all everyone once believed it to be and that it could actually cause more harm than good in some cases.
  • Benjamin Rush and the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

    Benjamin Rush and the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793
    Benjamin Rush believed in depletion therapy. He used depletion therapy often to try and treat people during the yellow fever epidemic. Depletion therapy consists of lots of purging and bloodletting which most likely caused many people to die by making them too weak to fight the sickness.
  • William Cobbett

    William Cobbett
    William among many other people began to be skeptical of bloodletting and its effectiveness. William wrote "The times are ominous indeed when quack to quack cries bleed and purge."
  • George Washington's death

    George Washington's death
    George Washington fell ill and requested for doctors to bloodlet him. So they did. They ended up bleeding him four times over the course of eight hours. Where he lost about 40% of his blood resulting in his death. Around this time bloodletting was very popular but some people began to question its effectiveness. With his death more people began to question if bloodletting was really safe.
  • John Hughes Bennett

    John Hughes Bennett
    He opposed the practice of bloodletting and thought it wasn't effective and that it could even be harmful. He influenced many people to no longer use bloodletting. Bloodletting was now on its downfall with it not being seen and used as the cure-all it was once believed to be.
  • Bloodletting on the decline, blood transfusions on the rise

    Bloodletting on the decline, blood transfusions on the rise
    Bloodletting had become almost obsolete at this point. While studying blood transfusions became popular during World War One. By the 1920s doctors were more likely to perform a blood transfusion than to bleed their patients.
  • Bloodletting and the plecebo effect

    Bloodletting and the plecebo effect
    We now know that bloodletting isn't a cure all. However why did it take them so long to figure that out. Did people lie about bloodletting making them feel better? The answer is likely no. Bloodletting likely did make some people feel better due to the placebo effect. The placebo effect is when a treatment that has no therapeutic value helps someone feel better. Due to the sole fact that the person believed that the treatment would help them.
  • Modern Bloodletting?

    Modern Bloodletting?
    Bloodletting isn't an effective treatment for many things however it does still have some use in modern day. It can be used to treat some diseases such as hemochromatosis (an excessive buildup of iron in the body) and polycythemia (excess red blood cells). Other than being used to treat a few diseases bloodletting has become obsolete with modern phlebotomy taking it's place.
  • Phlebotomy now

    Phlebotomy now
    Thankfully modern phlebotomy is nowhere near as gruesome as bloodletting used to be. Modern phlebotomy is often used to gather a small amount of blood for diagnostic purposes. It is a lot less painful and dangerous than it used to be. Also to draw blood you need to be certified so not just anyone can stab you with a needle. People are properly trained to do so safely.