Yes, the ancient form of medicine that was believed to cure or prevent illness or disease. The principle of bloodletting was that blood and bodily fluids had to be in balance to maintain proper health. Bloodletting is draining blood from a sick person with the belief that the person will be cured of his or her ailment. This practice was adopted universally by surgeons for almost 3000 years, right until the 19th Century in Europe, North America, and Asia. Another thing to add to our list of pseudoscience.
Bloodletting was carried out by barbers more so than physicians. The red and white stripes on a barber’s pole indicated that those barbers carried out bloodletting. The red symbolizes blood and the white symbolizes bandages. These poles can be seen in barber shops even today are derived from the practice of bloodletting.
Bloodletting was used for almost everything. According to some British medical text, it was recommended for acne, cholera, asthma, indigestion, diabetes, convulsions, plague, smallpox, scurvy, stroke, tetanus, gout, herpes, jaundice, insanity, leprosy, pneumonia, tuberculosis and over a hundred other diseases. Until 1942, medical textbooks recommended bloodletting to treat pneumonia. Heck, bloodletting was used to treat nosebleeds, menstruation, childbirth, and amputations.
George Washington supported its use. After he had developed a throat infection from weather exposure, he asked to be heavily bled. Within 10 hours, 3.75 Litres of blood were withdrawn from his body just prior to his death in 1799.
So Why Was Bloodletting So Popular?
In short, because of the placebo effect. Patients thought that they were getting better and this did help them feel better. Physicians thought that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. According to Hippocrates, bloodletting was modeled on the process of menstruation. Menstruation purged women of bad humors, in the same way, men need to be purged.
Although the side effects of bloodletting are harmful, it is still used in Ayurvedic, Unani and traditional Chinese medicine. There are some cases where bloodletting may be helpful like polycythemia and hemochromatosis, but must be administered by a professional doctor.