Victorian Era Medical Problems

by Jessica McKoy


Jessica McKoy

Bethany Thornell

English II Honors

March 20, 2015

In the Beginning

The world was preoccupied with the current epidemics that threatened the human race. There wasn't an idea what germs were, and anesthesia hadn't been discovered yet . People would die from doctors trying to treat diseases & disorders faster than the disease itself. We have come a long way since the Victorian Era and we should all be thankful to be here.

What caused these diseases?

England was going through a economic crisis. Prices were soaring and malnutrition in poor households was unavoidable for many. No one knew of germs or how they were spread so people would go for days without bathing at times and whole families would reuse dirty cups.

Population was another factor that spread these diseases faster. There was almost no sewage system in many cities and buildings. Most of the time, waste would be thrown out the window or into alleyways, courtyards, or even basements. The water pumps more often than not had waste or reused water in the source.

Failed Attempts

At this point in time, doctors weren't even sure how diseases were spread. Many traditional people didn't believe they existed because you couldn't see them with the human eye.

A theory came about during the outbreak of Cholera called the Miasma Theory. It was believed that people could catch a disease by inhaling "bad air" or air that had disease in it. London's Sanitation Commissioner believed in this theory about germs but didn't take the proper actions, although he had good intentions. He attempted to get rid of the waste flooding the city by dumping it into River Thames that also happened to be where London got their drinking water.

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For all the mothers who know how painful childbirth was, imagine giving birth with absolutely no anesthesia. Until 1847, thousands of women died during childbirth. And even after childbirth there was a 15% chance that children wouldn't live past one. A form of treatment in childbirth was bleeding, it is exactly what it sounds like. It was said to relieve pain when it would just initially weaken the mother even more.


Before we had antiseptics and anesthetics we have today, people would die from hospital visits. For example, if you had an infection the only treatment would be either a amputation or a cauterization. Even if the doctors were successful with removing the infected part of your body you would often be revisited with another infection because of the lack of sterilizing equipment. Methods such as blistering, purging and plastering were used and often lacked any success.

Pain Killers

The most common pain killers used in the Victorian Era was alcohol or Laudanum. It was used most often because of how cheap it was. Chloroform wasn't used until 1847 to lessen pain during surgery. A mix of brandy and wine was a staple pain killer used before procedures.

Works Cited

“Amputation and Surgery in the 19th Century”. 123HelpMe. n.d. 18 Mar 2015,

Casolino, Stephanie and Nadig, Megha “Public Health and Medical Practices” pbworks. n.d. 18 Mar 2015

Douglas, Laurelyn “Health and Hygiene in the Nineteenth Century” The Victorian Web. 1991. 18 Mar 2015

“Hidden Extras: Cholera comes to Victorian London” ScienceMuseum. n.d. 18 Mar 2015