In the 18th century, most people got their health and medical advice from popular health manuals, almanacs and newspapers. Franklin compiled Poor Richard’s Almanac and authored other publications.

He started his own printing business and founded Philadelphia’s first library. He was a prolific writer and took part in the Revolutionary War and the Constitutional Convention.


The pleura — two thin layers of tissue that separate your lungs from your chest wall — become inflamed and painful. The pain is usually sharp and localized. It’s worst when you breathe, cough, or move your chest wall or belly.

Your doctor diagnoses pleurisy by doing a physical exam. He or she may be able to hear the rough, scratchy sound of the inflamed pleural membranes rubbing together during breathing (a pleural friction rub). This can be heard with a stethoscope.

If pleurisy is caused by infection, you will need antibiotics. They are often given as tablets or injections.

Sometimes pleurisy can cause a buildup of fluid around the lungs called a pleural effusion. If you have this, your doctor can drain it with a needle or tube inserted through the chest wall. This can ease the pain and shortness of breath. Other tests may include a chest X-ray or a CT scan. A sample of the pleural fluid can be tested for infection and cancer.


Gout is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid crystals are formed in the joints of people with gout, and these crystals can be triggered by certain things, including eating food high in purines, drinking alcohol, being overweight, taking medications that increase uric acid, or having kidney disease.

Gout attacks can be very painful. They can last for a few days, and the pain can happen at any time of day or night. Gout is usually a problem for middle-aged and older men, but it can affect women too.

A doctor can diagnose gout by talking to a patient about their symptoms and performing a physical exam. The doctor will also want to know if any food or drink makes the symptoms worse. Other tests can include a CT scan of the affected joint, blood tests to check for uric acid, and extraction of fluid from the joint. The doctor can use the fluid to test for uric acid crystals.

Bladder Stone

In an era before anesthesia and antiseptics, bladder stones were dangerous. Isaac Newton and Napoleon Bonaparte suffered from them, as did Franklin’s brother, and some resorted to trepanning their urethra with wire in an attempt to dislodge the stone. Others enlisted the help of a dog or urinated upside down, or sought out quack treatments like standing on their heads to defecate.

Franklin had one sister, Jane Franklin Mecom, with whom he exchanged letters until her death in 1794. Her eldest son served with Franklin’s forces in the early battles of the Revolution, and another of her children died fighting for the British.


Although Franklin’s civic and political achievements are well known, his medical writings have received little attention. This is surprising because he was a prolific writer and his ideas had wide appeal.

Hippocrates characterized pneumonia as a “disease that is cured by surgical drainage of the empyema.” In his time, the disease was typically accompanied by a high fever, a sticking sensation in the chest, coughing and the presence of sputum expectorated.

Franklin used his considerable skills as a printer and publisher to promote innovations in public health, most notably smallpox inoculation. This method of vaccinating people against a potentially fatal illness involved abrading the skin and introducing a tiny amount of the virus. Franklin also made a significant contribution to discrediting Franz Anton Mesmer and the medical cult of animal magnetism. He wrote and published a number of treatises on the subject and had contacts with physicians on both sides of the Atlantic who shared his doubts about the practice.

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