The New England Journal of Medicine looks through 200 years of back issues to understand how we die differently:

The first thing to notice here is how much our mortality rate has dropped over the course of a century, largely due to big reductions in infectious diseases like tuberculosis and influenza.

 

The way we talk about medical conditions has changed, too. NEJM finds that, back in 1812 – the first year it published – reports of spontaneous combustion were taken quite seriously by the medical community, as were debates over how, exactly one would be injured by a close-call with a cannonball:

 

Doctors agreed that even a near miss by a cannonball — without contact — could shatter bones, blind people, or even kill them (1812f). Reports of spontaneous combustion, especially of “brandy-drinking men and women,” received serious, if skeptical, consideration (1812g). And physicians were obsessed with fevers — puerperal, petechial, catarrhal, and even an outbreak of “spotted fever” in which some patients were neither spotted nor febrile (1812e).

 

 

The Burden of Disease and the Changing Task of Medicine

David S. Jones, M.D., Ph.D., Scott H. Podolsky, M.D., and Jeremy A. Greene, M.D., Ph.D. New England Journal of Medicine June 21, 2012;

 

 

 

 

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1113569

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