As promised, here’s the conclusion of my list of the Top 10 advances in medicine. As stated before, here are the ground rules: I’m not ranking surgical advances, I’m sticking to American medical problems, and we’re not including public health initiatives like clean drinking water. No, what we have here is a rare tribute to our much maligned pharmaceutical industry in all its capitalistic chemical glory.
So once again, without further delay or pre-authorization, here’s the cream of the crop of the top 10 medical advances.
5. Antihypertensives. Hypertension, like diabetes is a common contributor to vascular disease which lead to, among other things, stroke and coronary artery disease. The greater control of blood pressure by these medications has undoubtedly contributed to a reduction in morbidity. In addition, medications like angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and beta-blockers have other beneficial effects that go beyond their blood pressure lowering effects.
4. Birth control. In olden times in this country, and in many parts of the world today, it has been financially advantageous to have children. In an agrarian world, children contribute to labor, and tend to their parents as they age. Marriage of children could also mean merging of families and greater wealth. Nowadays, it costs close to $300,000 to raise a child. In addition, fewer children has meant more women in the job force and reduced strain on people, and marriages, which make for healthier people. Fewer children also means more resources for each child, which make for healthier children.
3. Insulin and other hypoglycemic agents: Diabetes is a major contributor to disease in the world. While it only ranks as the number 7 cause of death in the U.S. it is being increasingly understood that even minor amounts of hyperglycemia can contribute to vascular disease, particularly heart disease and stroke (which rank as the first and fourth most common causes of death). Undoubtedly without these treatments the incidence of vascular disease and infection would be astronomically higher.
2. Anesthetics and Pain medication. Imagine a world in which only the most basic surgical procedures could be performed. A world where even lancing a boil would be considered barbaric and avoided at all costs. That’s what the world was like in the dark age before anesthesia and pain medicines. So many things that we take for granted in today’s medical world, like medicines for a minor procedure or obstetrical deliveries would not be possible without anesthetic agents. And that’s before we even consider things like hip repairs, open heart surgeries, and appendectomies. No, I think I would rather not try to imagine that world.
1. Antibiotics. Ok, this was an easy one, even most kids know about the invention of the first antibiotic. I shudder to think of where we would be today without the father of modern medicine, Dr. Penicillin, whose incredible legacy is today carried on by his grandson, Dr. Vancomycin. I kid. Check out this fascinating first-hand account of the first use of penicillin in the U.S.; a 33 year old woman at Yale, New Haven hospital. A single vial of the “black magic” was shipped from England, the physicians actually collected the patients urine to reclaim the drug and re-administer it. She lived to the age of 90. Awesome stuff.
Check out the CDC’s list of the top 10 public health achievements of the previous decade. I found the statistics on the benefits of vaccines of particular interest; “A recent economic analysis indicated that vaccination of each U.S. birth cohort with the current childhood immunization schedule prevents approximately 42,000 deaths and 20 million cases of disease, with net savings of nearly $14 billion in direct costs and $69 billion in total societal costs.”
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