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.
This disease, known likewise by the name of low spirits, or the vapours, is a certain state of the mind along with indigestion, in which the greatest evils are apprehended upon the slightest grounds, and the worst consequences imagined from any unusual feeling, no matter how trifling.
Hypochondriasis bears a strong resemblance to Dyspepsia; but there is this difference between them, that the former usually occurs at an advanced period of life, and is more an affection of the mind than of the body; whereas, indigestion is more common between the ages of puberty and forty. Hypochondriasis may, moreover, be distinguished from dyspepsia by the languor, listless-ness, want of resolution and activity, fear of death, and suspicious disposition being always present, and by the dyspeptic symptoms being often absent, or when present, they are in a much slighter degree.
Men of a melancholy temperament, whose minds are capable of great attention, and whose passions are not easily moved, are, at an advanced period of life, most liable to be attacked with this complaint; and, when it has once taken place, it goes on increasing as life advances, being usually most troublesome in the autumn and winter, which accounts for the greater number of suicides at those seasons of the year.
Hypochondriasis seems to depend on a loss of energy in the brain, or on a torpid state of the nervous system, produced by various remote causes; such as, close and intense study, long and serious attention to abstruse subjects, the constant remembrance of some loss or disappointment, great anxiety of mind, with or without cause, leading an inactive, indolent, or sedentary life, immoderate venery, or a use of crude, flatulent, or unwholesome food, being guilty of great irregularity and intemperance, and by long-continued evacuations.
Hypochondriasis and other nervous complaints are, through the medium of sympathy, scarcely less infectious than febrile diseases; and even persons naturally of a cheerful temper, by being long domesticated with those of a melancholy, despondent, cast, have been known to become decidedly and often deplorably dejected.
Hypochondriacal people are usually worse in the morning, and the longer they happen to sleep the worse they are. They awake out of it with confusion, and do not come immediately to themselves; and when they do, they can think only of melancholy subjects. This state continues till dinner, with very little abatement; after dinner they feel a little revived, and at night their spirits return, to suffer the same reaction on the following day.
No matter how absurd the fancies of the patient, it is of no use to ridicule them; the only chance of doing him any good is to humour him, and treat his imaginary ailments as if they were real, and to prescribe for him accordingly. In this way, and by paying attention to the general health, he may some day fancy he is cured, and he will be cured. I recollect an instance, many years ago, of a gentleman who fancied, from time to time, that he had nearly every disease the human frame is subject to; after being under medical treatment for some years, and changing his medical attendant nearly as often as he thought he had a new disease,. he became the patient of a friend of mine. After a time, finding that his complaints were altogether imaginary, and that there was really nothing the matter with him, he gave him some pills made of bread, coloured and flavoured. After taking the first box he said he had never had anything that did him so much good in his life, and the second box completely cured him.
Hypochondriacs are often much troubled with acidity in the stomach, and also with costiveness: the first may be counteracted with small doses of Magnesia, and the Cathartic and Tonic Pillst No. 5, will be found a good. remedy for the latter. Hypochondriacs are also apt to be troubled with spasmodic pains in the head and stomach; the following may be found useful:-
Bromide of Ammonia....................Two Drams.
Compound Tincture of Cardamoms.......Six Drams.
Simple Syrup...................................Half an Ounce.
Camphor Mixture.........Sufficient to make Six Ounces.
Take a tablespoonful three times a day.
When the patient gets tired of this, or fancies it does him no good, the Bromide of Potash may be substituted for the Bromide of Ammonia.
Nervous people are apt to be troubled with atoms flying before the eyes, which, though of no consequence, often excite alarm and apprehension, and may be mistaken for incipient cataract or amaurosis, but whenever the appearance of these floating atoms is unaccompanied with the sensation of a mist, which more or less obscures the appearance of objects, we may safely conclude that it is not a symptom of cataract.
The plan of cure for these floating atoms is to relieve the mind from objects of anxiety, to clear the bowels by a brisk purgative, and then to take atonic. The following will be useful:-
Aromatic Spirit of Ammonia.........Three Drams.
Tincture of Gentian.....................Half an Ounce.
Tincture of Orange Peel..............Half an Ounce. - Water sufficient to make half a pint. A tablespoonful to be taken three times a day, between meals.
In Hypochondriasis, as well as in most other nervous diseases, it is too much the custom with many, to addict themselves to a frequent and immoderate use of Opium, in some form or other; but this remedy should be carefully shunned, unless on urgent occasions, for, although it may afford some little relief for the present, it will, nevertheless, by a constant use, greatly add to the disease. The immediate effect produced by Opium upon such as addict themselves to its use is, that with an increase of the frequency of the pulse, the heat of the body is generally somewhat augmented, bo as to produce very often flushings in the face; and from a depressed state they become active and alert, with an exhilaration of spirits; but after the operation of the remedy is over, depression of mind ensues, the body is cold and heavy, and in this dull and indolent condition it remains until the dose is repeated.
Warm bathing will be beneficial to persons suffering from nervous diseases. They should take plenty of exercise, on foot or on horseback, when the weather is fine. They should live well, principally on mutton, poultry, fish, and light puddings. Sherry, if it can be obtained good, may be taken, properly diluted with water, instead of malt liquors; but should these disagree with the stomach, a small proportion of brandy in water may be used instead. Tea and coffee are improper articles of diet for hypochondriacs.