Hippocratic Medicine

By Dr. Regina Hillsman

Although the history of medicine dates back to the use of herbs during pre-historic times, one figure stands alone as one of the greatest contributors to the modern science and art of medicine: the ancient Greek physician known as Hippocrates. Widely considered the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates lived in the Age of Pericles during the 400s and 300s B.C. Hippocrates also played an integral role in the creation of the Hippocratic school of medicine, which established medicine as a profession and set it apart from fields such as philosophy and theology.

Among the first to believe that illness was not the result of superstition of the anger of the gods, Hippocrates sought to separate medicine from religion. By instead looking at external factors such as habits, diet, and environment, Hippocrates was one of the first physicians to exclude mystical causes when evaluating an illness. During his life, Hippocrates made a number of important contributions to medicine. Throughout the majority of his work, Hippocrates stressed the importance of discipline and rigorous training, placing a special emphasis on the practices of observation and documentation still in use today. Often credited with the discovery of clubbing fingers as a symptom of lung cancer and heart disease, Hippocrates also characterized illnesses based on their pathology, using terms such as acute, endemic, epidemic, and chronic.

Hippocrates made significant discoveries in the field of chest surgery and performed a large amount of research into the causes and treatment of hemorrhoids. Although Hippocrates made a number of significant contributions to the practice of medicine, he is also famous for his doctrine of humorism. According to the tenets of humorism, disease in the body was a direct result of imbalance in the four humors of the body: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. Hippocrates also related humors to the four seasons and the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Although many aspects of humorism fell out of favor with medical scholars in later years, Hippocratic therapy focused on patient-centered care and the importance of the body’s natural healing processes.

By Dr. Regina Hillsman

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