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Articles on Medical Histories

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While doctors still use their senses for diagnoses, they have technologies to back them up. Alex Proimos/Flickr

From the sweet taste of urine to MRI: how doctors lost their senses

“Diabetic urine”, the surgeon Herbert Mayo wrote in 1832, “is almost always of a pale straw or greenish colour. Its smell is commonly faint and peculiar, sometimes resembling sweet whey or milk.” The use…
The truthfulness of clinical trial data is often debatable. Image from

Looking back on the chequered past of drug trials

CLINICAL TRIALS – Human clinical trials are an important last hurdle in the development of new drugs and therapies. Today, The Conversation takes a closer look at this vital scientific endeavour with three…
Upright births are likely to be shorter, less painful and involve fewer interventions than recumbent births. Image from

Stand and deliver – upright births best for mum and bub

Think of childbirth and you’re likely to picture a woman lying on her back on a hospital bed. That’s the position most (78%) Australian women adopt to give birth birth, despite growing evidence that being…
Among American institutions, it’s the military that has done most to eliminate racial bias. DVIDSHUB/Flickr

The hidden world of medical racism in the United States

The idea that discredited, repugnant ideas about racial differences might play a role in medical diagnoses and treatment today is one that doctors ought to find profoundly disturbing. The racially biased…
The centuries-long practice of blood letting was finally proven to be ineffective, thanks to clinical trials in the 19th century. The Medieval Cookbook/Wikimedia Commons

From ‘trust us, we’re doctors’ to the rise of evidence-based medicine

MEDICAL HISTORIES - The final instalment in our short series discusses the evolution of evidence-based medicine. Like bleeding, doctors’ intuition was a central part of medical practice until it was categorically…
AA’s Twelve Steps program emphasises spiritual awakening and is not at all medical. Nikhil/Flickr

Curing addiction: Twelve Steps or fixing the brain?

MEDICAL HISTORIES - The fourth instalment in our short series provides a brief overview of Alcoholics Anonymous and considers the reasons for its success. Alcoholics Anonymous provides a non-medical intervention…
Psychiatrists identified widespread alcohol abuse amongst the Chinese population of Borneo. Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical InstituteWikimedia Commons

Culture and psychiatry: an outline for a neglected history

MEDICAL HISTORIES - The third article in our short series discusses the long history of culture-based understandings of mental illnesses. Culture has been taken more seriously by psychiatrists since the…
Spermatorrhoea was said to be ‘the most dire, excruciating and deadly maladies to which the human frame is subject.’ Guillaume Duchenne

Spermatorrhoea, the lesser known male version of hysteria

MEDICAL HISTORIES - The second instalment in our short series examines how the spermatorrhoea epidemic changed the scope of medicine. Every period arguably invents its own illnesses, medical disorders…
Doctors treated the bodies – and minds – of those suffering from hypochondriac disease. Domenico di Bartolo/Wikimedia Commons

Hypochondriac disease – in the mind, the guts, or the soul?

Welcome to Medical Histories, a series that brings you curious stories from the history of medicine. In this first instalment, we look at the apparent epidemic of “hypochondriac disease” in the early modern…

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