This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
In this disease there is a loss of consciousness, with a peculiar rigidity of the muscles, causing the body and the limbs to retain the position in which they may have been at the moment of attack, or in which they may have been placed afterwards, without any power on the part of the patient to vary them. The disease is frequently combined with some other affection, especially Hysteria, Somnambulism, or Insanity. It may attack both sides of the body, one side only, or a single limb. Sometimes the attack is proceded by signs of nervous disorder, and at other times comes on without any warning.
When the whole body is attacked, the patient becomes perfectly stiff, and remains standing, sitting, or lying, according to the posture at the time of seizure. Upon any attempt to move the limbs by another person, though there is some degree of stiffness, they generally yield to the impulse, and afterwards retain the position in which they may be placed. The features are usually composed, although frequently the muscles of the face form no exception to the rest of the body, and the same expression of countenance is retained as may have been exhibited at the moment of attack. The pulse is variously affected, being in some instances healthy, in others more rapid, and in others, diminished, both in frequency and force; During the attack, the evacuations are either suppressed or involuntary.
The duration of the attack is quite uncertain. It may be only a few minutes, or it may extend to hours, days, or even weeks. In some cases, the attacks are repeated, with greater or less frequency, and in this way, the complaint may continue for months or years. When the fit goes off, the patient often complains of headache, and a feeling of fatigue or soreness of the muscles; but is in general, wholly unconscious of what has passed, and sometimes resumes a conversation or action in which he may have been engaged when attacked, at the point at which it was interrupted.
The disease exhibits a considerable variety of symptoms. The rigidity varies, being occasionally so great as to resist strong efforts to overcome it, and at other times, so slight that the limb will not retain a new position, but falls slowly if elevated. Sometimes a certain degree of consciousness remains, and certain muscles may be moved under the influence of the will, while others are completely cataleptic. Cases too, have occurred, in which the patients have declared upon recovery, that they were perfectly aware of their condition, and of everything that was going on around them, but were utterly unable to speak, or to move even so much as an eye. In some rare instances, circulation and respiration have been so far reduced, as to be scarcely, if at all observable, and the individuals have been supposed to be dead. But the expression of the face, the retention by the limbs of any new position in which they may be put, or an inflexibility greater than that of death, and the preservation of a certain degree of warmth, will generally serve to distinguish the difference.
An excitable condition of the nervous system, similar to that which exists in hysteria, constitutes a predisposition to this affection. Women and children are peculiarly liable to it. Any strong emotion, or unusual or protracted intellectual exertion, may serve as an exciting cause. Strong sexual desires, or excessive indulgence, are said to have brought on attacks. The disease is said to have been also caused by worms, by the driving in of cutaneous diseases, and by the stoppage of habitual discharges.
If the state of the pulse appears to require it, blood may bo taken from the arm, or from the temples by leeches, or from the hack of the neck by cupping. Brisk cathartics may often be of service; and the Cathartic Powder, No. 3 or the Cathartic Pills, No. 4 (according to the age of the patient,) may be given and repeated, as the state of the case; may seem to require. Cold may be applied to the head, and warm water or hot bricks to the feet. Tonics-as quinine combined with ammonia, (two grains of quinine with twenty drops aromatic spirit of ammonia- three times a day,) may be of service. Light nourishing diet, when the patient can take it, and the application of an ice bag to the spine may produce a good effect. Electricity might in some cases be of service. Oil of turpentine with aromatic spirit of ammonia-about twenty drops of each-given several times a day, joined with warm bathing, are said in some cases to have been successful.