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Medicine in India

Medical Concepts And Therapies

The systematic doctrines of ayurvedic medicine included a humoral theory somewhat akin to that of Hippocrates and Galen. Indian medicine admitted three humoral substances, namely, wind, bile, and phlegm. However, a certain indecision is visible within the tradition as to the status of blood, which shared with the humors the critical feature of being able to cause illness through becoming corrupt, and blood is sometimes implicitly included as a fourth humor. Disease was classified in several interesting and useful ways, and a system of triage was developed that guided the physician to focus on treatable and curable cases, while discouraging involvement with patients who were clearly in the grip of terminal conditions. Several thousand plants were known for their medicinal values, and described in terms of a pharmacological typology based on flavors (six types), potency (usually two: hot and cold), postdigestive flavorings (usually three), and pragmatic efficacy (used when the effect of a medicine is not adequately defined by the earlier categories). This typology formed a system of interlocking correspondences and antipathies with the system of humors and other physiological categories as expressed through the vocabulary of pathology.

Sanskrit medical treatises recommended a wide range of therapeutic techniques, including herbal drugs, massage, sauna, exercise, diet (including the use of meat broths and other nonvegetarian tonics), bloodletting (including leeching), simple psychotherapy, and surgery. One important group of five specific therapies became established early. According to Caraka, these were: emetics, purgation, two types of enema, and nasal catharsis. Sushruta replaced one of the enema treatments with bloodletting. Other authors added sweating and massage, as well as other therapies, into what became historically an increasingly important and elaborate complex of treatments. This "five therapies" treatment is still popular and important today. The theories and techniques described in this tradition were widely known and practiced by learned physicians and their staffs and students all over India. Of course, as in all parts of the world, there were many quacks and charlatans, a problem explicitly discussed in the very earliest Sanskrit medical writings.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mathematics to Methanal trimerMedicine in India - Systematic Medicine, Medical Concepts And Therapies, Surgery, Modernization And Globalization, Bibliography