20 Old Medical Devices That Are Now Considered Barbaric or Unscientific

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Medical advancements have dramatically transformed healthcare, rendering many old practices and devices obsolete. Once considered cutting-edge, some of these historical tools are now viewed as barbaric or unscientific. This article explores 20 such medical devices, highlighting the evolution of medical technology.

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Trephination Devices

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Using trephination devices is an age-old tradition followed by the Greeks, Incas, and other ancient civilizations. It would involve drilling or scraping a hole into the human skull with the perception that it would relieve intracranial pressure or release evil spirits causing mental illnesses. Yes, it’s bizarre seeing it from today’s perspective, and in earlier times, it would also cause infection and mortality to the patients.  

Electric Shock Therapy Machines

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Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, was used widely in the mid-20th century for treating severe psychiatric conditions, and they delivered high doses of electricity without giving anesthesia to the patient. Yes, and as expected, it would cause severe side effects, including memory loss, bone fractures, and severe pain to the patient. And before you argue, ECT is still used but with more regulations where they use anesthesia and follow proper precautions. 

Iron Lungs

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Do you remember the epidemic which spread in the 20th century? It was polio! Around that time, iron lungs or negative pressure ventilators were used to help patients who had paralyzed respiratory muscles were used to help patients who had paralyzed respiratory muscles. However, these coffin-like machines would encase a patient and force their lungs mechanically to push the air in and out. It was a life savior then but might not go with today’s standards due to being restrictive and uncomfortable. This practice has been shaped into modern ventilators, which are much more advanced. 

Bloodletting Instruments

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A common thing to practice for over two millennia, bloodletting was based on the belief that it could cure various ailments by balancing the body’s hormones. Many instruments like lancets, fleas, and leeches were used to draw blood from patients, but it resulted in blood loss, infection, and even death in severe cases. Many doctors claim it was a pseudoscientific and dangerous practice to be done in the past.  

Lobotomy Tools

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Here’s another practice that was done to treat mental illness! In the 20th century, lobotomies were popularized due to severing connections in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Leucotomy and orbit clast were some of the devices used to perform these procedures. However, this led to drastic results like changes in behavior, cognitive impairment, and even death. Many people criticize it in today’s time for causing irreversible damage to countless patients. 

Mercury-based Treatments

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Mercury was a popular treatment for treating syphilis. Mercury rubs and inhalers deliver the toxic substance directly into the body. And what happens when the body is exposed to toxins? It stops working and, in some cases, even dies! It led to numerous neurological problems and has now been recognized as highly dangerous and unscientific. 

Radium Water Jars

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Radium Water Jars were made to boost health and vitality in the human body. They would infuse drinking water with radioactive radium while carrying a false perception in mind. And just like those beauty treatments, these jars met the same fate. They were criticized for causing radiation poisoning, cancer, and death.  

Chainsaws for Childbirth

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Chainsaws were invented in the 18th century to widen the pelvis during childbirth, a procedure known as ‘symphysiotomy’. The chainsaws used at that time would cut through the bone and cartilage of the mother, and all this happened without the use of anesthesia! As expected, it resulted in severe trauma and high maternal mortality rates. 

Plombage Therapy for Tuberculosis

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To collapse the affected lung of tuberculosis patients, Plombage therapy was performed, which involved inserting inert materials, such as Lucite balls or paraffin wax, into the pleural space. While it was discovered with an intent to rest the lung, it often led to severe complications, which included infections and respiratory distress. However, safer options like antibiotics and more effective treatments have replaced ineffective approaches. 

Scold’s Bridle

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‘Does your wife nag a lot? Use this miraculous device of the 16th and 17th century to save yourself from all the annoying talk!’ This was how Scold’s Bridle was imagined at that time. It was a metal muzzle with a tongue depressor to prevent speech. And the reason it was made for? It was designed to humiliate and physically restrain the wearer, which reflected that time’s societal attempts to control and suppress women’s voices.

Dental Key

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Dental Keys were the tool used before modern dental practices were introduced. They resembled door keys and were inserted into the mouth, then twisted to latch onto a tooth and finally forcefully yanked to remove it. This process might seem extremely painful, and you’re right. It led to broken teeth, fractured jaws, and severe infections.

Rotary Nephrectomy Device

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At the beginning of the 20th century, scientists proposed creating a Rotary Nephrectomy Device to assist them in kidney removal. However, the blades used to excise the kidney often led to excessive bleeding, infections, and high mortality rates.  


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Scarificators were spring-loaded devices featuring multiple blades to create uniform incisions in the skin. They were used in bloodletting and vaccination procedures in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, their use often led to infections, excessive blood loss, and scarring. To ensure safer treatment today, doctors have replaced them with better alternatives. 

Electromechanical Therapeutic Devices

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Electromechanical Therapeutic Devices were marketed in the 19th century as cures for various ailments through electrical stimulation. However, many times, this ‘cure’ led to burns, shocks, and other injuries due to harmful electric currents that were delivered unpredictably. Science has come too far in utilizing the real power of electricity in the medical field.

Hot-Iron Cauterization

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Cauterization was a practice that was very common in ancient and medieval medicine. People would use hot irons to seal wounds and stop the bleeding. Is this for real? Yes, the red-hot iron would be placed on the wound area and cause immense pain to the person. As evident, it would cause severe burns and infections in the wounded area. 

Weight Reduction Machines

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To fit the ‘one-size-fits-all’ perception, women would go to extreme heights and take Treatments that were capable of harming their bodies in the long run. One such treatment was popularized in the early 20th century, including weight reduction machines like vibrating belt machines. The idea behind it was to reduce weight through mechanical vibration, primarily found in gyms and spas. However, they were ineffective and even caused bruises and other injuries to people. 

Insulin Coma Therapy

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Insulin Coma Therapy was popular back in the 1930s and 40s when large doses of insulin would induce hypoglycaemic comas in patients with schizophrenia. As dangerous as it might sound, the treatment used to be conducted with much more irregularities and often led to seizures, brain damage, and death. To treat psychiatric patients today, doctors use safer and more effective treatments. 

Radium-Based Beauty Treatments

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Many women are insecure about their appearance. Radium was once famous as a miraculous anti-aging substance and led to the manufacturing of radium face cream and radium water.  However, these products have been criticized for having dangerous levels of radiation, which caused severe health issues, including cancer and radiation poisoning to consumers. 

Thoracoplasty for Tuberculosis

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Before effective antibiotics could be developed for tuberculosis, thoracoplasty was used as a surgical procedure to remove ribs and collapse the chest wall. When used on a patient, it would cause severe deformities, chronic pain, and impaired respiratory function. Today, it has come under scrutiny for being a harmful approach to disease management and has been replaced by less invasive and more effective treatments. 

Uvulectomy Practices

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Uvulectomy is the practice where the small flesh dangling at the back of the throat is removed. It was believed to cure or prevent throat infections, coughs, and fevers. And without anesthesia, the part was cut through crude instruments like knives or razors. Just imagining the situation sends chills down the spine. Think about those who experienced it. As evident, it led to severe pain, bleeding, infections, and sometimes death. This practice has been condemned by many and is seen as too cruel in today’s time. 

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