That’s right, there’s some stuff you need to know about modern-ish medicine (modern-ish: read 20th century), such as the discovery and subsequent use of x-rays, development of plastic surgery, finally overcoming the final problem with surgery, and so on. Ready for a quick-fire set of information on what you need to know about the major 20th century developments? Here we go…

Firstly, x-rays were discovered in 1895 (so not really 20th century, but still close enough), by Wilhelm Rontgen, a German scientist. Governments and hospitals alike immediately saw the medical value of this discovery, and x-ray machines were installed in some hospitals by 6 months into 1896. It was WW1 (20th century – see the link?) that truly brought x-rays into their own, however – many machines were produced for the major hospitals all along the Western Front, to help surgeons remove shrapnel which could have caused fatal infections.

The next major chronological development was the discovery of blood groups in 1901, leading to some of the first successful blood transfusions – allowing people to finally beat the three-fold problems of pain, infection and bleeding, as lost blood could now be replaced. However, as WW1 prevented on-the-spot blood donors from actually being useful, doctors were led to discover that blood plasma could be separated from corpuscles (tiny particles in the blood) and the cells could be packed with ice for storage, for use when needed. Blood could be kept for even longer when sodium citrate (a clotting agent) was added to the stored blood.

Also during WW1 and WW2, surgeons were developing skin grafts to help people reconstruct damaged skin – forming the basis for plastic surgery.

Obviously, the development and subsequent mass production of penicillin (by 1943)was a major step forward – being able to fight bacterial infection was a major boon for the time, meaning soldiers survived infections that would have otherwise killed them.

Work done by Pierre and Marie Curie into radiotherapy as a treatment for cancer, earning them a Nobel prize, was another development.

Transplants were becoming more and more viable – the first successful heart transplant was performed by Christiaan Bernard in 1867, with other transplants soon following.

In the 1930s, the quality of anaesthetics was improving – people discovered that they could be injected instead of swallowed or inhaled, meaning that dosages could be more effectively controlled.

In more recent times, 1980s/90s, keyhole and micro-surgery have become more common – trying to ensure that all surgery is done with the least amount of intrusion into the body as possible, to reduce potential damage. For example, before keyhole surgery was common, the operation to remove the gall bladder (sometimes done in the case of gall stones) involved fully opening a person’s chest up and levering the ribcage open. However, now this can be done with a very fine precision – resulting in much less potential trauma to the body from surgery.

And that’s roughly all of the major developments in the 20th century that you need to know about! Any questions, post a comment.

Hope this helped!


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