These Are Most Terrifying Medical Treatments American Hospitals Used In the Early 20th Century

Medical treatments have come a long way in recent years. The treatments that were used many years ago would be seriously frowned upon if they were implemented today. Here are some of the scariest and most bizarre remedies doctors used to treat illnesses in the early 20th century.

Doctors once thought a hydroelectric bath would cure a migraine

A woman holding her head

A woman has a headache. | SIphotography/iStocks/Getty Images

A hydroelectric bath was a bath with a mild electric current running through it. So rather than treat a migraine with medicine, you could minimally electrocute yourself to try and treat it. Doctors believed the mild electric current would suppress the migraine. However, its flaws were quickly realized and better treatments were eventually sought.

Next: New migraine treatments are much safer.

Today, new migraine vaccine treatments are on the rise

Visiting a doctor

A woman visits the doctor. | Nensuria/iStock/Getty Images

Migraine treatment has remained a mystery for many years. But in 2018, a new treatment called Aimovig was approved by the FDA to stop chronic migraines before they start. The vaccine is administered monthly and has shown to cut migraines down by more than 50% in some patients.

Next: This dangerous method killed lice. 

Gasoline was once used to kill lice

Red and yellow gasoline can

Gasoline can |

Years ago, it was thought that pouring gasoline all over one’s head would get rid of their lice. And while the treatment actually was effective, it was incredibly dangerous. Removing all the gasoline took time, and if any was left in someone’s hair, it would be bad news if they walked near an open flame.

Next: Here’s how to treat lice today.

Today, shampoos and sprays are used to get rid of the bugs

A man washes his hair.

A man washes his hair. | iStock/Getty Images

Rather than dousing your hair in gasoline, you can use a nontoxic, potent shampoo or spray to get rid of pesky lice. It’s much less of a hassle, and there’s no need to worry about walking near an open flame.

Next: You’ve heard of these, but you probably didn’t realize how painful they were.

Peg legs were carved to fit an amputee’s leg

Leo, a parapalegic boxer-Labrador mix, is dressed as a pirate with a peg leg.

A dog dresses as a pirate. | Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

We’ve all heard of peg legs, but it’s hard to imagine they were once the best substitute for someone who had a leg removed. The peg legs were customized their best to be able to fit a person’s body, but they often left people in a lot of pain. Even before peg legs, prosthetics were made with bronze and iron.

Next: Prosthetics have come so far since then. 

Today, prosthetics have made long strides in comfort and function

Prosthetic leg

Prosthetic leg | ImagePixel/iStock/Getty Images

Today’s prosthetics are much better quality than many years ago. Computer chips, microprocessors, and other robotics have made those with prosthetics able to function almost as if they were never amputees at all. The devices today are much lighter and typically made from plastic, aluminum, and composite materials, according to

Next: Doctors used chains to remove these.

Hemorrhoids and cysts were removed with chains

Hospital bed

Hospital bed | iStock/Getty Images

For those dealing with hemorrhoids or cysts, a medical tool called an ecraseur was often used for removal. This tool consisted of a chain that wrapped around the tissue and pulled it tighter and tighter until it detached. The process was very painful and not well received by those going through it.

Next: Treatments for both are much easier today.

Today, creams and minor surgeries are used to remove each

surgical scissors and forceps

Surgical tools | Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images

Nowadays, treatments are far less painful. For hemorrhoids, creams can be used to help the sores go away. And for cysts, minor surgeries (often not very painful) are performed to remove them. Occasionally, hemorrhoids are surgically removed as well, but today’s procedures are much safer than years ago.

Next: People actually laced their water with this.

People once drank water laced with radium to treat arthritis

woman drinking water

A woman drinks water. |

People once thought water laced with radium was the best thing since sliced bread — until they started dying. The water was supposed to be a miracle worker that did everything from cure arthritis to improve longevity. But eventually, people caught on to its deadly side effects and stopped using it.

Next: Arthritis treatments are much more effective today.

Today, prescription drugs and various treatments are used for arthritis

Pills in bottle

Pills | Luchschen/iStock/Getty Images

Everything from FDA-approved prescription drugs to heating pads are used nowadays to help relieve arthritis. Acupuncture has also been known to help those dealing with the chronic condition. Occasionally, if the arthritis is bad enough, surgery may be required (such as a knee or hip replacement).

Next: Parents suppressed children’s teething in dangerous ways.

Parents suppressed teething children with morphine and mercury

Baby chewing on teething ring

Teething baby | RobHainer/iStock/Getty Images

The last thing a child should be given is a painkiller such as morphine — or deadly mercury. But in the early 20th century, teething children were given both of these things to help mask the tooth and gum pain. A product called Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, which contained morphine and alcohol, was a very popular item mothers would give to their teething children.

Next: Parents have much safer alternatives today.

Today, nontoxic pain relievers care used to aid with teething

cheerful little baby girl with Downs Syndrome

Happy baby | Eleonora_os/iStock/Getty Images

Thankfully, neither of those dangerous pain relievers are still used. Safer options, such as putting a cold spoon on the gums, massaging the baby’s gums, or giving the baby a teething toy, are better alternatives that will help ease the pain without any potential harm. There are also safer medications to help numb the pain.

Next: Both mercury and malaria were once used to treat this.

Mercury and malaria were once used to treat syphilis


Doctor | iStock/Getty Images

Syphilis treatments were among the harshest. When someone contracted the infection, treatments involving mercury or malaria were used to combat it. Doctors would administer mercury to the patients in small amounts for an indefinite period of time to ward off the infection. Also, doctors would intentionally infect the patient with malaria. The hope was that the malaria would raise the patient’s body temperature enough to kill off the syphilis infection.

Next: Thankfully, antibiotics were invented.

Today, penicillin is used to cure syphilis

man at doctor

A man visits the doctor. | AlexRaths/iStock/Getty Images

Today, antibiotics such as penicillin are used to treat syphilis. Penicillin is typically given in the form of a pill that the patient takes for 7-10 days to rid the body of any harmful bacteria. Penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. It was the first true antibiotic on the market and is still one of the most popular antibiotics today.

Next: This bizarre method “treated” aneurysms.

Doctors once attempted to cure aneurysms with starvation

Hungry woman holding knife and fork

A woman sits hungrily. | beer5020/iStock/Getty Images

When doctors thought their patient had an aneurysm, they’d treat the aneurysm with a very specific diet that gave the person barely enough food to survive. According to Mental Floss, patients were given a diet called “Tuffnell’s Diet” that deprived them of most foods in order to slow the heart rate. To doctors, a slower heart rate meant the aneurysm would be less likely to rupture, which would save the patient.

Next: Today, the odds of saving someone’s life from an aneurysm are much greater.

Today, minimally invasive surgeries can treat aneurysms

A team performs surgery.

A team performs surgery. | Jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images

Thankfully, it was eventually realized starvation was not the best way to treat aneurysms. Surgical clipping, a type of minimally invasive surgery, is used today. It seals off an nonruptured aneurysm before it has a chance to be potentially deadly.

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