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Leeching blood
  1. Richard Keeler,
  2. Arun D Singh,
  3. Aarti Dua,
  4. Harminder S Dua

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Today is the Yesterday of Tomorrow. What is today ‘state of the art’ may tomorrow be relegated to the dustbin of history—hsd

Bloodletting had its day, based largely on the concept of ‘evil humours’ that accumulated in the body and caused disease, when it was widely practised in the early years of organised medicine. Ancient medicine is rife with examples of bloodletting as a means of ‘curing’ a number of conditions including those associated with excessive loss of blood such as nose-bleeds and menorrhagia!! As bloodletting was a ‘surgical’ procedure it was devolved to the barbers who performed this and other interventions. The barber's pole, painted with red and white spiralling stripes, is a relic from the past when it was a symbol of the medical procedures performed by barbers, the red and white stripes representing the bloodied and clean bandages.

The early history of ophthalmology documents bloodletting, occupying several pages in Galen's manuscripts. Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’ in his Hippocratic aphorisms declares bloodletting as one of the main treatments for eye diseases. He says in one short sentence ‘Ocular diseases are cured by drinking …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.