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Before Hippocrates and up until the middle of the 19th century, physicians believed that certain humors, or fluids in the body needed to be in balance for the body to function properly. According to this belief, an imbalance in these humors could cause illness or death.
In an attempt to control these humors, physicians turned to bloodletting believing that the release of blood would set the body’s humors back into balance, thus curing the person. For years, physicians accepted the practice of bloodletting with only minor dissention. By the early 19th century, the debate was not over whether to bleed, but how best to bleed the patient. This technique reached its height of practice in Paris between 1825 and 1835.
Over time, the process of bloodletting evolved into several different methods:
By 1840, bloodletting began to fall into disrepute when Pierre Louis claimed that bloodletting did not benefit pneumonia cases. He skillfully demonstrated the validity of his argument with statistics on pneumonia patients that were bled versus those that were not. Today, bloodletting is still practiced to resolve the overproduction of red blood cells. However, the idea that bloodletting "set the humors right" ceased to exist when physicians reached a better understanding of what bloodletting did, and how the body worked.
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