5 Things Doctors Used to Believe


If history can teach us anything, it’s that absolute truths are always evolving. Take medicine: before the discovering of viruses, germs and bacteria, and how they are linked to disease, Western medicine looked a whole lot different. Today it may be amusing to think of organs moving around our bodies or the nighttime as a breeding ground for illness, but, in prior centuries, that was accepted knowledge. Click through to learn about these and more concepts that doctors once held as true.

So now it’s your turn, readers: in 100 years, what current medical practice or idea will be on a list like this? Voice your opinions in the comments.

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1. Sick People Should Not Go Outside at Night.

Before the discovery of germs in the late 19th century, most of the Western World believed that “bad air” caused many major diseases. In other words, you became sick from from diseases like cholera and chlamydia because of a dirty environment, not because of exposure to other people with those diseases. This bad air, or miasmata, was thought to be especially bad at night, and sick people were strongly discouraged from going outside after dark. This may seem like a silly warning today, but ask yourself this: when was the last time someone told you to put a jacket on so you don’t catch a cold? Yep, the association between being cold and having a cold comes from the same antiquated medical advice.

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2. Distant Mothers Are to Blame for Their Child’s Autism.

Even today, Autism is a little-understood disease, but in the 1950′s and 1960′s, the prevailing theory for why some children developed the condition had to do with poor parenting. Ignored by their parents, these children turned instead to the comfort of their inner selves. The effects of this once dominant theory hurt a generation of mothers, and is still felt by some mothers of autistic children today — who wants to hear that they caused their child’s autism?

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3. Some Pre-Adolescent Girls Can Fast Indefinitely.

In the late 1800s, several high-profile cases emerged of young girls, usually pre-adolescent, that claimed to sustain themselves fully without ever eating. Sound familiar? Well, it’s thought that these “fasting girls” were some of the first publicized cases of anorexia nervosa — a disease that developed alongside the development of the middle class and the growing availability of food. To their credit, many doctors who treated these girls were quite skeptical of their claims, though public interest in these tragic cases was strong.

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4. Women Get Sick Because Their Uteruses are Moving Around in Their Bodies.

You can thank the Ancient Greeks for the concept of the “Wandering Womb.” Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, believed that a woman’s uterus moved around in her body like an animal and placed pressure on her internal organs. This pressure was said to be the cause of many of the ailments women face, including non-gender specific ones like vertigo, choking, and heartburn. The wandering womb concept persisted in Western medicine for centuries. The development of medical technology aided in its dismissal as a concept.

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5. Excess Fluids in the Body Are Responsible for Most Diseases.

For thousands of years, Western doctors believed in the concept of humorism. No it has nothing to do with jokes; rather, humorism was the theory that too much or too little of the body’s four main fluids — black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm — had a direct impact on their health and temperament. These four humors were associated with seasons, elements, and personality traits. To treat disease, one needed to adjust the levels of these fluids — through consuming certain foods, inducing vomiting, and bloodletting.

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Magdalena J.
Magdalena C.about a year ago

Thank you!

Les M.
Les M.2 years ago

the first made me laugh. the others weren't so funny. in another 100 years, we'll probably be shocked with what we consider common knowledge now.

Natalie Scerri
Natalie S.2 years ago

What an unusual and striking article, thanks. I loved the wandering womb best of all!

Anne G.
Anne G.2 years ago

I like the wandering womb as an answer to women's illnesses, thanks for the article. I live in a place (Germany) where people are still convinced that if you get a chill you will get sick, that if you sit on a cold bench or you don't cover your kidneys you'll get a bladder infection. Modern medicine is no combatant to old beliefs.

Victoria G.
Victoria M.2 years ago

This belief about the uterus moving around in the body is not just an old, former belief. My close friend in Taiwan was not allowed to go up or down stairs for the first month after giving birth to each of her kids because her in-laws told her that using stairs for the first month would cause her uterus to wander around her body. Since the land in Taiwan is so expensive, houses go up and not out, so she was limited to her bedroom and a bathroom for a full month!

Lisa F.
Lisa F.3 years ago

Wandering Womb!! Wow!

Sarah M.
Sarah M.3 years ago


Bonnie M.
Bonnie M.3 years ago

Firstly, I wish Carec2 will find a way to shorten and consolidate these pages.
Ineteresting, old wives tales did hold some credibility, even unto the 21st century.

Joe R.
Joe R.3 years ago

Interesting. Thanks.

Lika S.
Lika S.3 years ago

For some reason, this doesn't surprise me, when even 150 years ago, some ailments were "the wiles of a woman".