Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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What Ails Thee?
09 October 2012

What Ails Thee?

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

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