Introduction to Hippocratic Medicine

By Dr. Regina Antony
Hippocratic system of medicine is a natural healing science which originated in Greece around 500 BC. Hippocrates is a Greek physician and is considered as one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He is often referred to as ‘The Father of Medicine’. Hippocrates came from a family of healers and taught the science to his pupils. Polybus, his son-in-law carried on his work. He inspired a group of followers who practised his methods of natural healing and revolutionised medicine in ancient Greece.

Hippocratic Corpus


The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of nearly 60 ancient Greek medical works. Even though it was not fully written by Hippocrates himself, it was entirely associated with his teachings.

The Hippocratic Corpus contains textbooks, lectures, research, notes and philosophical essays on various subjects in medicine, in no particular order. Notable among the treatises of the Corpus are The Hippocratic Oath; The Book of Prognostics; On Regimen in Acute Diseases; Aphorisms; On Airs, Waters and Places; Instruments of Reduction; On The Sacred Disease etc.

Hippocrates is believed to be the first person to state that diseases were cured naturally and not because of superstitions and Gods. He argued that diseases were not punishments inflicted by the Gods but resulted from natural factors, diet and habits.
Human anatomy and physiology were not developed at the time of Hippocrates because the Greek culture forbade the dissection of human body.
The therapeutic approach of Hippocratic medicine was based on the healing power of nature. According to this theory, the body has the power to re-balance the four humours of the body and heal itself.

Generalised treatments prescribed included fasting and the consumption of honey mixed with vinegar. Hippocrates once said that “to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness.” However, potent drugs were used on certain occasions.

Hippocratic system gave special emphasis to prognosis. Hippocratic medicine was notable for its strict professionalism, discipline, and rigorous practice.It states that physicians should always be honest, calm, understanding, and mature. The Hippocratic physician paid careful attention to all aspects of his practice. He even kept his fingernails to a precise length.

The Hippocratic School gave importance to observation and documentation. These doctrines emphasise that the physicians should record their findings and their medicinal methods in a very clear and objective manner, so that these records may be passed down and utilised by other physicians.Hippocrates made careful, regular note of many symptoms including complexion, pulse, fever, pains, movement, and excretions. He is said to have measured a patient’s pulse when taking a case history to discover whether the patient was lying.

Contributions to medicine


Hippocrates is believed to be the first to correlate clubbing of fingernails to chronic lung disease, lung cancer and cyanotic heart disease. Hence clubbed fingernails are sometimes referred to as Hippocratic fingers.
He was the first to describe Hippocratic face in prognosis.
Hippocrates classified illnesses as acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic.
He explained the symptoms, signs and symptoms, surgical treatment and prognosis or thoracic empyema.
Hippocrates was the first documented thoracic chest surgeon and his techniques of using lead pipes to drain chest wall abscess are still valid.
Hippocratic School of medicine described the diseases of the human rectum and its treatment. Treatments such as cauterisation, excision, ligation for haemorrhoids are described in the Hippocratic Corpus. Also, the use of rectal speculum is mentioned.
Hippocrates also used lifestyle modifications including diet and exercise to treat diseases such as diabetes.

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