Bloodletting is the practice of drawing blood from a patient in order to cure them of a disease. This was a common way physicians (medical doctors) tried to cure patients for 2,000 years.
This idea comes from an ancient form of medicine called Humorism that believed the body was made up of different "humours" that had to be in balance for the body to be healthy. One of the humours was blood. At the time, they mistakenly believed that blood was created and then used up, not recirculated. They believed this used up blood could pool in different areas of the body and become out of balance with the other humours.
If a physician believed a person was ill because their humours were out of balance, they would bleed the person or give them tea that made them vomit or have to go to the bathroom. They believed this would rid the body of the
humours that were causing the problem and it would, therefore, restore the balance between the humours and the person would get better.
Even though Humorism—the idea of the body being made up of humours—was no longer believed to be true by the end of the 18th century, doctors still practiced bloodletting. Though they were getting a better understanding of how the human body functioned and knew it wasn't because of "humours," they still didn't know how to treat their patients and believed doing something was better than doing nothing.
It was also common practice for "barber-surgeons" to perform bloodletting. They advertised the service by putting a red and white striped barber pole in front of their businesses. The red symbolized blood, while the white symbolized bandages. Barbers only give a shave and a haircut now, but the barber pole symbol has remained.
Doctors commonly used bloodletting to cure someone of almost any illness from acne to hearing loss, or to keep them from getting an illness. Most often, doctors would cut a vein in the patient's arm or neck to drain their blood. They also used leeches (a type of worm) that would be applied to the patient's skin to suck out the blood. Regardless of the method, the blood was drained until the patient started to faint.
George Washington probably died because of bloodletting. He got a sore throat after riding his horse in the rain and his doctors bled him of 80+ ounces of blood (the average
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