We're Living Longer - Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs

Submitted on March 27, 2012
Thanks to breakthroughs in modern medicine, life expectancy has risen drastically over the past century.
We're Living Longer - Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs

Until about 1800 A.D., life expectancy in Europe and America averaged between 30 to 40 years. Since then, in the last two hundred years, the life expectancy of a human being in the industrialized world has almost doubled to about 75 years.

Numerous changes have been responsible for this increase in life expectancy, foremost amongst them being our understanding of what causes diseases. This has led to the development of modern medical science which has given us so many advances in the fight against diseases and age related disorders. Each of these advances has contributed in its own way to an increase in the longevity of humans.

The advances in medical sciences have also caused a significant shift in the causes of premature death due to diseases. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the main causes of premature death were diseases such as smallpox, typhoid, rheumatic fever and scarlet fever. Today, the commonest causes of premature death are 'lifestyle diseases' such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, stress and hypertension.

Let us take a look at the top 10 medical breakthroughs that have led to an increase in human life expectancy.

  1. Germ Theory - Louis Pasteur's discovery that germs (pathogens) were the cause of many diseases marked the beginning of modern medical science. Before his discovery, theories for what caused diseases included the 'miasma theory' 'contagion theory' and 'spontaneous generation theory'. The germ theory has led to the discovery of the role played bacteria and viruses in causing diseases.
  2. Vaccines - Edward Jenner is credited with having discovered vaccination. He used a weakened strain of cowpox to successfully vaccinate people against the dreaded smallpox virus. Today, vaccinations are used to prevent a number of dreaded infections such as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and many others. A lot of these once dreaded diseases have been virtually eradicated from the globe. Medical science continues to research modern day viruses such as the Ebola virus and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in an attempt to find cures for them.
  3. Penicillin - The discovery of this wonder drug in 1928 by Sir Alexander Fleming gave a big boost to life expectancy. The first of the antibiotics, Penicillin is second to none in helping increase life expectancy. No more would people have to die from infections caused by staphylococci, streptococci and other bacterial infections. Post surgical survival rates also zoomed as the chances of post surgical infections receded. Former killer diseases such as tuberculosis could now be cured. However, indiscriminate use of antibiotics has led to many drug resistant strains of diseases. The hunt for newer and more advanced antibiotics continues to this day.
  4. Anesthesia - The earliest forms of anesthesia consisted of pouring large quantities of alcohol down the patient's throat in order to dull the senses. Advances in anesthesia at the beginning of the 20th century led to an increase in life expectancy after surgery.
  5. DNA - First discovered in 1869, its structure was discovered in 1953 by Watson & Crick. The discovery has greatly increased our understanding of a range of illnesses and diseases. Research into DNA could one day find the cure for illnesses such as cancer and point the way to increasing life expectancy by slowing the ageing process.
  6. X-Rays - The discovery of X-rays in 1895 by Roentgen enabled doctors to gain an invaluable diagnostic tool.
  7. Insulin - The discovery of insulin and other agents to control blood sugar levels has helped countless diabetics to increase their life expectancy.
  8. Blood Thinners - Drugs such as aspirin have helped those suffering from cardiovascular disease to live longer.
  9. Anti-Hypertensives - High blood pressure, the silent killer, is now more manageable with the help of these drugs.
  10. Cholesterol Lowering Drugs - These drugs have helped reduce the incidence of cardiac related deaths.