History of Ancient Egyptian Obstetrics and Gynecology: A Review
For its time, the study and practice of medicine in Ancient Egypt was revolutionary. Primitive by today’s standards, physicians in Egypt nonetheless showed great initiative and impressive knowledge of the human body and its inner workings, as well as the treatment of illness and disease. Surgical intervention was never recommended, and the main treatment modalities provided by the “swnw” (pronounced sounou, physicians) that did exist would be deemed bizarre by today’s standards. Gynecological disorders such as uterine prolapse were treated with medications rather than by manipulation. It was thought that if the patient stood over a burning fire of ingredients, her uterus would be magically forced back into its normal position. Excessive bleeding, or menorrhagia, was treated by remedies designed ‘to draw out the blood of the woman’ – the rationale being that if you were to draw the blood out, the bleeding would stop. Of particular concern to the Egyptians was the ability to predict whether or not a woman was capable of becoming pregnant. One method described that the likelihood of becoming pregnant was proportional to the number of times the woman vomited while sitting on a floor covered in beer mash. Another instructed the woman to place an onion bulb in her vagina overnight – if the odor of the onion could be smelled on the woman’s breath by morning, then she was considered fertile. Once pregnant, numerous methods were then employed to predict the sex of the newborn.