This section is from the book "The Home Hand-Book of Domestic Hygiene and Rational Medicine. Volume 2.", by J. H. Kellogg, M.D.. Also available from Amazon: The Home Hand-Book of Domestic Hygiene and Rational Medicine, Volume 2.
This is a functional disorder of the heart, probably dependent upon some sort of disturbance in the nerve centers having control of the organ. It consists in a rapid and disturbed action of the heart so intense as to be painfully perceptible to the patient. The heart, in some cases, seems to the patient to roll or turn over. In some cases there is an interruption of the beating of the heart, one, two, or often three beats being lost. The sensation of the patient during the suspended beating is that he is about to die, so that great alarm is occasioned. The attacks of palpitation usually occur at intervals, the patient in the meantime being wholly free from inconvenience.
Exposure to cold, the use of stimulants and of tea, coffee, and tobacco, sexual excesses, and especially self-abuse, are among the causes of palpitation of the heart. The palpitation also occurs as the result of indigestion or anaemia. Palpitation often accompanies organic disease of the heart. A careful examination should be made to determine whether or not the patient is suffering from valvular disease.
The patient should have tonic treatment, nutritious, careful and regular diet, should abstain from excesses of all kinds, take abundance of sleep, with plenty of out-of-door exercise, and should abstain wholly from tobacco, coffee, tea, and spirituous liquors. Palpitation of the heart is often mistaken for real organic disease of the organ. We have met many cases in which patients supposed themselves to be the subjects of organic disease of the heart on account of the obstinate and long-continued palpitation of the organ. A young man who was under our care a year or two ago was a remarkable illustration of this fact. He had been examined by many physicians, and was by a majority supposed to have an organic affection of the heart. Notwithstanding, the improvement of his digestion caused the entire disappearance of his heart symptoms, and we have every reason for believing that the trouble was wholly functional, though it was so violent as to give him great discomfort and excite alarm. A careful regulation of the diet is in most cases all that is necessary to effect a cure. The exact nature of the diet should depend upon the particular condition of the stomach. Alternate hot and cold applications to the spine and the application of galvanic electricity to the throat are deserving of strong recommendation as among the most successful measures of treatment in this disease. In chronic cases, relief will be obtained by wearing over the heart a tin or rubber bag filled with iced water, which must be frequently renewed. Sympathetic palpitation may be relieved by bending the head downward, allowing the arms to hang down. The effect of this measure is increased by holding the breath a few seconds while bending over. Another ready means which will relieve most cases very quickly is pressing strongly upon the large arteries on either side of the neck. This generally gives instant relief.
Throbbing at the pit of the stomach is usually due to palpitation of the aorta, caused by irritation of the stomach. It may also arise from aneurism. Palpitation of other arteries, as those of the neck, temples, groins, and other parts of the body may occur. We recently had under treatment a patient who complained of palpitation in all parts of the body. The local application of cold is the best remedy. In case of aortic palpitation, the ice-pack to the spine may be employed.