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Concept of health-disease in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages was a time when both the church and superstition strongly influenced culture, which in turn stifled the development of various areas, including health. One of the fields that remained most stagnant during medieval times was medicine.

The conceptualization that was had in the Middle Ages about health and disease , of certain theories and procedures that occurred in the approach to the mental phenomenon was demonology . Everything was concentrated in terms of theological construction , until the Renaissance.

Health in the Middle Ages

Health in the Middle Ages was threatened by poor hygiene and a lack of basic medical knowledge. The underlying cause of many of the problems and diseases of the Middle Ages was due to the lack of sanitation, especially in big cities or cities like London, where there was no running water and reeds were used to cover the floors, which turned out to be another terrible health hazard of the Middle Ages.

Typically, doctors could only be found in large cities, and low-income people or those living in rural areas had to travel long distances to seek treatment that might not even be effective. In those areas without access to doctors, there was often a monastery or herb gardener who took care of medical care using medicinal plants .

In medieval times, people could study in small communities with other physicians of the time, but such education was poor and limited, and generally inaccurate. To determine what happened to a patient, doctors focused primarily on bodily fluids, called “humors.” Each of the four bodily fluids (yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm) corresponded to the main elements of the universe, fire, earth, air and water.

The theory of the four humors focused on maintaining a balance within the body; It was believed that at certain times of the year, one mood or another had a greater presence in the body.

Disease in the Middle Ages

Medieval diseases were similar to the diseases of the Modern Age. Health during the Middle Ages was poor and death rates after illness were very high.

This was a period of Crusades, battles for power, and endless wars. Siege wars and constant battles were the norm in the Middle Ages. Knights and soldiers frequently suffered from various health problems such as broken bones, wounds, abscesses and fractures. These were treated in unsanitary environments, which worsened their condition. The only cure for toothache was to have the tooth removed, without anesthesia, the same happened with other ailments. Surgeons performed terrible amputations and the stumps were cauterized with pitch.

Filth was a fact of life for all classes in the Middle Ages. The towns and cities were dirty, the streets with open sewers; there was no running water and knowledge of hygiene was practically non-existent. Manure, garbage, and animal carcasses were dumped into rivers and ditches, poisoning the water and neighboring areas. Fleas, rats, and mice flourished under these conditions. This was the perfect environment for the spread of infectious diseases and plagues, such as the Black Death that killed more than half of England’s population between 1347 and 1352.

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Since there was no knowledge about germs or how disease spread in the Middle Ages, the Church explained that disease was a “divine retribution” for leading a sinful life. For this reason, the  disease was considered as something bad  and transgressive. Suffering from a disease was synonymous with guilt and punishment from the gods for sins committed.

Common illnesses in the Middle Ages included dysentery, tuberculosis , arthritis , leprosy, and ” sweat sickness ” (influenza). Infant mortality was high and delivery was extremely risky for both mother and child.

Diseases of the Middle Ages

Among the diseases that marked the Middle Ages we can highlight: the plague, leprosy and tuberculosis.

Plague was a disease caused by a negative, anaerobic, facultative, primary pathogen, a rod-shaped bacterium, known as Yersinia pestis. It was produced by rats and was transmitted to humans through infected flea bites.

Leprosy was an infectious disease caused by a chronic infection of the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. It could arise from unclean conditions and poor hygiene and can cause skin lesions that can permanently damage the skin, nerves, eyes, and extremities.

Tuberculosis was an infectious disease that generally affected the lungs. The evidence of tuberculosis of the cervical lymph nodes or the lymph nodes of the neck found in the Middle Ages was called scrofula, and it was described as the “king’s disease” because it was widely believed that the kings of England and France could cure scrofula simply by touching those affected. Today, tuberculosis cases continue to be found and it is the second cause of death worldwide.

The exorcism: a medieval mystical rite

Exorcism, for example, is linked to demonology, to demonic possession, that is, spirits that possessed the subject. In certain situations, the procedure, the phenomenon of possession, was manifested through sleepwalking or situations of altered consciousness. The subject will be aware that he is possessed and in states of sleepwalking this spirit was expressed, which had a certain autonomy.

To remove the spirits, methodologies were used such as bleeding, goals, that the subject felt the disgusting thing so that the spirit would come out, noises, deposit in other subjects or in animals, incantation, exorcism or through prayers and invocations .

This phenomenon was the one that took place preponderantly throughout the Middle Ages, but the significant question is: at what point is this prevailing theological conception going to undergo a transformation? of mental illness?

Answering the question, the theological construction began to lose its validity in the Enlightenment , where a totally positivist conception of science flourished: whose motto was that everything that cannot be grasped with a caliper or measured with a ruler is mere fantasy; a conception of experimentation, based on reason, on the empirical.

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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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