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Heart Diseases

The Middle Ages

The emphasis in medieval Europe on suffering as an experience of spiritual growth did not bode well for research concerning the heart. However, advances were made by Arab scholars, whose culture encouraged scholarly research. The medical writing of Ibn Sina, known as Avicenna (980-1037), included a rich sampling of astute observations about heart disease. This book was translated widely in the East and West and was highly influential for centuries. Although he repeated some of Galen's errors about the heart, Avicenna also distinguished between many types of heart disease, including those caused by a wound or abscess, those caused by collapse of the heart, and those caused by an obstruction in the heart. In the thirteenth century, Ibn Nafis challenged some of Galen and Avicenna's incorrect assumptions about the heart, particularly Galen's belief that invisible pores allowed blood to pass between the left and right ventricles. Nafis correctly believed that blood was mixed with air in the lungs.

Medieval healers and magicians had many cures for heart pain, deriving from scholarship and folk medicine as well as quackery. One popular cure called for serving the individual a radish with salt while he sat in a vapor bath. While folk remedies may not have been effective by current standards, they may have provided patients with a sense of calm and well-being, still considered to be of value in the battle against heart disease.


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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Habit memory: to HeterodontHeart Diseases - Early Knowledge, The Middle Ages, The Artful Heart, Explosion Of Knowledge, The Critical Arteries