Was medieval medicine really that horrific? Would a trip to the ‘GP’ always involve leeches down your tunic and a hacksaw taken to anything the leech refused? This diagram - dating from 1506 – shows a medical idea from the Middle Ages that isn’t too far from today’s cutting edge. Each vial drawn around this wheel contains a differently-coloured urine sample. A medieval physician might decide a patient’s fluid was ‘ruddy, as pure intense gold’ (bottom left) and look up a corresponding ailment on the chart. Smell or taste also guided diagnosis. The principle of using biological fluids to provide clues of medical conditions remains today – blood and bile (and urine) are all indicators for the body’s metabolism. As if referring to a gigantic version of the urine wheel, the modern field of metabonomics spots changes in the chemical make-up of fluid samples, matching them with tell-tale signs of metabolic diseases.
Written by John Ankers
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.