Obstetric analgesia and anesthesia in the 19th century in Greece

Papathanakos G, Arnaoutoglou E, Korre M, Papadopoulos G

Department of Anesthesiology, University of Ioannina, Ioannina, Greece

Correspondence: Papathanakos G, 6 Kosta Choleva St, GR-45221, Ioannina, Greece. E-mail: gppthan@me.com


The aim of our study was to present the development of pain management during childbirth in Greece in the 19th century. The medical journals “Asclepius”, “New Asclepius”, “The Athens Medical Bee”, “The Athens Bee”, “Hippocrates”, “Galen” and textbooks of Pharmacology and Obstetrics were studied. The oldest source for the management of the pain of childbirth was found on a 1845 manual of Pharmacology, which proposed the use of rubbing extract of the leaves and the root of the Belladonna. The first anesthetic for childbirth was used in Greece in 1848 by Erik Treiber. The obstetrician was Nikolaos Kostis, who in 1849 in his “Manual of Obstetrics” suggests warm baths and opium in ointment or enema. The first publication for management of labor pain was found in 1859 in “Asclepius” journal. It presents the topical application of Tanninum, or injections of cold water accompanied by the use of the Peruvian bark and iron preparations. We also found other publications considering the use of chloroform (1862, 1869, 1873), sulfuric ether (1862), belladonna (1869), chloral hydrate (1873, 1874), cocaine hydrochloride (1885), camphora (1880) and antipyrine (1889). There are also sources related to the implementation of phlebotomy and the use of leaves and root of belladonna, ethyl ether or bromide ether, potassium bromide and the combination of morphine and chloroform with naphae (1879, 1891). The medical community began to deal with the pain of childbirth after the second half of the 19th century. Nevertheless, the lack of infrastructure and the religious beliefs of 19th century prevented the establishment of any strategy to relieve women from the pain of childbirth.

Keywords: labor, analgesia, anesthesia

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