25 Most Important Medicines Throughout History

Posted by , Updated on November 25, 2022

Since the earliest human civilizations, medicines have been an important part of staying healthy and treating diseases. From treating a cough to curing Polio, humans have discovered many ways to combat a wide array of illnesses. While we’ve made progress unlike anything in history, we also have a long way to go. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and many autoimmune diseases are still major problems. But, what has been our major achievements in medicine? Here are 25 Most Important Medicines Throughout History.


The Capsule

capsulesSource: https://capsuleconnection.com

While capsules themselves aren’t medicine, their invention was helpful for doctors to administer medicine to patients. Medicine was quite bitter and bad tasting, so they’d use things like honey to help swallow it. Capsules helped solve all that.



etherSource: http://www.pbs.org/

While surgeons don’t use Ether anymore for surgical procedures, during its time, it opened up new doors for various surgical practices and helped push medicine forward.



ritalinSource: http://www.webmd.com

Adults and children who suffer from ADHD can experience significant problems at work and in the classroom. Ritalin helps them with attention and impulse control.



viagraSource: https://www.drugs.com/

While it might seem a little weird putting Viagra on this list, it is kind of a wonder drug. Many men suffer from erectile dysfunction and being able to have physical intimacy is important for a person’s health.



morphineSource: http://www.pbs.org

On the one hand, Morphine has helped many people overcome extreme pain. For that, it’s an amazing modern discovery. The downside, of course, is an abuse of the drug and the current opiate epidemic.



ChlorpromazineSource: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2655089/

Synthesized in 1951, Chlorpromazine essentially kick-started the treatment of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.


Chemotherapy Drugs

chemoSource: https://www.cancer.org

Chemotherapy was first discovered during World War II when a compound called nitrogen mustard was found to work against lymphoma. Since then, researchers have discovered combination chemotherapy, the use of multiple chemotherapy drugs at the same time.



cortisoneSource: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Cortisone

Cortisone is a naturally occurring steroid hormone. It’s been used to treat a number of ailments including arthritis, allergies, respiratory diseases, and Addison’s disease.



salvarsanSource: https://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/83/8325/8325salvarsan.html

In 1910, syphilis was widespread and incurable until Paul Ehrlich introduced Salvarsan to treat the disease. While it wasn’t a silver bullet and had great controversy around it, its overall success helped show the promise of modern medicine.


Sleeping Pills

sleeping pillSource: https://www.drugs.com/ambien.html

We all know sleep is an important part of staying healthy. People who suffer from insomnia struggle every day to get to sleep. Fortunately, the creation of sleeping pills like Ambien have been helpful in treating the condition.



l dopaSource: http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/parkinsons-disease/levadopa-(l-dopa).html?mcubz=0

L-dopa continues to be the gold standard in treating Parkinson’s disease and can be most effective in treating rigidity and slowness.


HIV Protease Inhibitors

hiv drugSource: https://www.hiv.va.gov/

By blocking the protease process in the HIV cell reproduction, HIV Protease Inhibitors have been a major breakthrough in fighting HIV.


Birth Control Pills

birth controlSource: http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/

Various forms of birth control have been around since ancient times. But in the modern era, the discovery of birth control pills have given couples the ability to choose when to have a child.



aspirinSource: http://www.cnn.com/

Aspirin is a pain reliever, heart attack preventer, and cancer preventer. Believe it or not, it was being used well before clinical trials. Both ancient Egyptians and Greeks discovered certain plants with salicylic acid (the main ingredient in aspirin) helped with fevers and pain reduction.



CyclosporineSource: http://www.webmd.com/

Getting a kidney, liver, or heart transplant can be a life-saving endeavor, and Cyclosporine helps suppress your immune system so that your body will accept the organ as if it were your own.



xanaxSource: https://www.drugs.com/xanax.html

People with anxiety, PTSD, or depression didn’t have much to depend on before Xanax and other similar medications came along. Also called Alprazolam, it affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced.



ErythropoetinSource: https://www.davita.com/

Patients on dialysis may still need several medications to make sure they stay healthy. When the kidneys are failing, they don’t produce Erythropoietin anymore. So, by giving them this hormone, it helps them not become anemic.



Azt_pillsSource: catie.ca

AZT (more commonly known as Retrovir) works along with Protease Inhibitors to help control HIV. This drug is also used in preventing HIV-positive mothers from passing the virus onto their baby during pregnancy and childbirth.



lasixSource: http://epmonthly.com

Lasix, also called Furosemide, is on the World Health Organizations list of essential medicines and is used for patients with high blood pressure, heart failure, liver disease, or kidney disease.



lipitorSource: http://www.webmd.com

People who have high cholesterol and triglycerides may be at greater risk of heart attack or stroke. Fortunately, Lipitor is a medicine which helps lower bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol which lowers heart attack risk.



Idoxuridine_-_IdoxuridinSource: slideshare.net, drugs.com

Used to treat the herpes simplex virus, this was the first anti-viral to be approved by the FDA. As viruses are more difficult to treat than bacteria in many ways, this drug was an important start as it’s led to antivirals for illnesses such as influenza and hepatitis.



insulinSource: http://www.diabetes.co.uk/insulin/history-of-insulin.html

Before human insulin was discovered to help treat diabetes, patients with type 1 diabetes would be put on extreme diets and would only have months to live. Since the discovery of insulin, more diabetes patients have been able to live longer lives.



Bottle_of_digoxin_tablets_'Tabloid'_brand_London_England_Wellcome_L0058212Source: slideshare.net

An herbal medicine made from foxgloves, this important medicine was used to treat irregular heart beats & heart failure. Due to negative and unfortunate side effects, it’s no longer used, but it was a breakthrough into medicines of this nature.



humiraSource: http://www.webmd.com

Humira, also called Adalimumab, treats a number of diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, and skin disorders. It works by blocking a protein in the body’s immune system which causes joint swelling.



penicillinSource: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/flemingpenicillin.html

Penicillin is hands down one of the greatest achievements in medicine, helping lead the way for other antibiotics. It proved effective in fighting a number of dangerous and harmful infections, including strep and staph infections.

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