Roundup! Major Medical Advances of the 20th Century

Major Medical Advances of the 20th Century

At the turn of the 20th century, over 10% of newborn babies were not expected to survive until their first birthday. Even after that crucial first year, the average life expectancy of an American was less than 50 years. However, thanks to certain advances, the resources available to us to treat patients have sharply improved the longevity and quality of life of Americans. Now, the infant mortality rate is 60 times better than it was in 1900, and our life expectancy is upwards of 79.

The health breakthroughs and major medical advances of the 20th century were so dramatic that if we could mirror the same catalyst in other cultural arenas (such as politics and economics), many of our world’s greatest problems would be solved. Let’s examine a few of the most important major medical advances of the 20th century:

  1. X-ray Technology

In 1895, a German professor named William Roentgen captured the first x-ray image, a photo of the bones in his wife’s hand. His realization that electromagnetic radiation could transfer through soft tissue and create images of the inside of the human body quickly swept through the medical industry. By 1913, medical x-ray machines became common place in hospitals across the world. X-ray technology has changed the medical world by providing doctors with a non-invasive way to make a diagnosis and treat a patient. We also use Roentgen’s discovery of radiation to treat of some of humankind’s most severe diseases, such as tumors, blood clots, and other blockages.

  1. Insulin

Approximately 9.3% of the population lives with diabetes. Before the development of insulin, diabetes was considered a lethal disease; the only treatment option physicians had was diet modification, which only served to prolong life by a few years. In the 1920s, a team of doctors realized that the insulin hormone, which malfunctioned in diabetic patients, could be drawn from the pancreas of animals and effectively administered to humans to control blood sugar. This development, along with responsible doctors’ insistence on an open patent that ensured no diabetic patient would be robbed of the life saving drug, has saved millions of lives over the last century and definitely earned its place on our list of major medical advances of the 20th century.

  1. Vaccinations

The first official vaccination actually took place long before the 20th century, in 1796, when an 8-year-old boy was inoculated against smallpox through exposure to cowpox. However, as health professionals, we can all agree that the development of vaccinations throughout the 20th century has had one of the greatest positive impacts on public health. Through the support of major medical foundations, such as the the World Health Organization, vaccinations can be thanked for globally eradicating smallpox in 1977. As vaccinations have become common practice, illnesses that were once the equivalent of a death sentence to children, such as measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio, and rubella, are now nearly non-existent.

  1. Penicillin

There is no question as to why penicillin is a top candidate on our list. At the dawn of the 20th century, infectious disease was the leading cause of death, accounting for one-third of all fatalities. In 1928, Alexander Fleming accidentally contaminated a petri dish, and then noticed that the resulting mold prevented the growth of the bacteria. This “Eureka!” moment led to the development of antibiotics that has saved an estimated 20 million lives. 

Elliot Health System would love to hear your input on this subject! What medical breakthrough in the last 100 years has been the most influential in your practice? Please send us your feedback.

Reach Out!

Comments are closed.