This section of the book is from "The Complete Herbalist" by Dr. O. Phelps Brown. Also available from Amazon: The Complete Herbalist: The People Their Own Physicians By The Use Of Nature's Remedies.
This is characterized by the sudden loss of consciousness and sensibility, accompanied with spasms and convulsions. It comes on suddenly, and epileptics, by the sudden attacks, are at all times in danger. They may be taken while descending a flight of stairs, while traversing the bank of a precipice, while crossing a street crowded with vehicles drawn at full speed, or while in a throng of people whose feet would trample them to death, especially in case of an alarm of fire, a great public meeting or pageant, or other sudden danger. But all those afflicted in this terrible way are actually alive to the dangers of which they are the constant expectants. Epilepsy, in its severer forms, is a terrible disease to witness. It is productive of great distress and misery, and liable to terminate in worse than death, as it is apt, in many cases, to end in fatuity or insanity, and so carrying perpetual anxiety and dismay into all of those families which it has once visited.
The leading symptoms of Epilepsy are, a temporary suspension of consciousness, with clonic spasms, recurring at intervals; but so various are its forms, and so numerous its modifications, that no general description of the disease can be given. I will first describe the most ordinary type of the disease and then note some of the several variations which occur from the standard type.
A man in the apparent enjoyment of perfect health suddenly utters a loud cry, and falls instantly to the ground, senseless and convulsed. He strains and struggles violently. His breathing is embarrassed and suspended; his face is turgid and livid; he foams at the mouth; a choking sound is heard in his wind-pipe, and he appears to be at the point of death from apnoea, or suspension of breath. By degrees, however, these alarming phenomena diminish, and finally cease, leaving the patient exhausted, heavy, stupid, comatose, or in a death-like condition. His life, however, is no longer threatened, and soon, to all appearances, he is perfectly well. The same train of morbid phenomena recur, again and again, at different, and mostly at irregular intervals, perhaps through a long course of years, notwithstanding the best medical science has been exercised to prevent and cure the distressing malady. This is the most ordinary form of Epilepsy.
The suddenness of the attack is remarkable: in an instant, when it is least expected by himself, or by those around him, in the middle of a sentence or of a gesture, the change takes place, and the unfortunate sufferer is stretched foaming, struggling, and insensible on the earth.
In this country, Epilepsy is commonly called the "Falling Sickness," or more vaguely, "Fits." The cry, which is frequently, but not always uttered, is a piercing and terrifying scream. Women have often been thrown into hysterics upon hearing it, and frequently it has caused pregnant females to miscarry. Even the lower animals are often startled, and appalled by a scream so harsh and unnatural, and parrots and other birds have been known to drop from their perch, apparently frightened to death by the appalling sound.
In most of the cases of fits, which have come under my notice and treatment, the first effect of the spasms has been a twisting of the neck, the chin being raised and brought round by a succession of jerks towards the shoulder, while one side of the body is usually more strongly agitated than the other. The features are greatly distorted, the brows knit, the eyes sometimes quiver and roll about, sometimes are fixed and staring, and sometimes are turned up beneath the lids, so that the cornea cannot be seen, but leaving visible the white sclerotica alone; at the same time the mouth is twisted awry, the tongue thrust between the teeth, and, caught by the violent closure of the jaws, is often severely bitten, reddening by blood the foam which issues from the mouth. The hands are firmly clenched and the thumbs bent inwards on the palms, the arms are generally thrown about, striking the chest of the patient with great force. Sometimes he will bruise himself against surrounding object, or inflict hard knocks on the friends and neighbors who have hastened to his assistance. It frequently happens that the urine and excrements are expelled during the violence of the spasms, and seminal emissions sometimes take place. The spasmodic contraction of the muscles is occasionally so powerful as to dislocate the bones to which they are attached. The teeth have thus been fractured, and the joints of the jaw and of the shoulder put out or dislocated.
This is the most severe, yet the most common form in which an epileptic attack occurs. Fortunately, there is a large class of cases in which the symptoms are milder. Sometimes there is no convulsion at all, or, at least, is very slight and transient; no turgescence of the face; no foaming of the mouth; no cry; but a sudden suspension of consciousness, a short period of insensibility, a fixed gaze, a totter, perhaps, a look of confusion, but the patient does not fall. This is but momentary. Presently consciousness returns, and the patient resumes the action in which he had been previously engaged, without always being aware that it has been interrupted.
Between these two extremes of epilepsy there are many links or grades. Sometimes the sufferer sinks or slides down quietly without noise; is pale; is not convulsed; but is insensible, much like one in a state of syncope, or fainting.
As it is impossible to give any single description of epilepsy which will include all its varieties, of course it is still more difficult to offer a strict definition of the disease. We can only say it is a malady that causes a sudden loss of sensation and consciousness, with spasmodic contraction of the voluntary muscles, quickly passing into violent convulsive distortions, attended and followed by stupor or sleep, recurring in paroxysms, often more or less regular. Yet all these circumstances may in turn be wanting. There may be no convulsion, no interruption of consciousness, no subsequent coma or stupor, or even a recurrence of the attack.
The duration of the attacks is variable. They seldom continue longer than half an hour; the average duration may be said to be from five to ten minutes. Attacks that spread over three or four hours generally consist of a succession of paroxysms, with indistinct intervals of comatose exhaustion. In the long-continued fits, or in the protracted succession of fits, the patient often dies.
The periods at which the paroxysms return are extremely variable. Most commonly they visit the sufferer at irregular periods of a few months or weeks; sometimes are repeated at intervals of a few days; sometimes every day or every night, and very frequently many times in the twenty-four hours.
The epileptic attack may come on for the first time at any age. It may begin in infancy during the first dentition, or teething; more commonly about the age of seven or eight years, during the time of the second dentition; more frequently still, from fourteen to sixteen, shortly before the age of puberty. It is apt to occur for a few years subsequently to this. The first fit may not occur till between thirty and forty; or it may occur at sixty, or even at a later period of life.
TREATMENT. -- There is perhaps no disease where a greater diversity of medical treatment has been instituted than in Epilepsy. The whole pharmacopoeia has been exhausted, and each remedy extolled for its virtues. One medical man says he cures the disease by trephining; another thinks the oil of turpentine the best remedy; still another recommends the vapor of chloroform. This doctor applies ice, the other cauterizes the back with a hot iron, and yet another speaks highly of a compound of camphor, valerian, assafoetida, naphtha, and oil of cajeput.
Unless rational treatment is employed, the disease cannot be cured. If occurring in infants, it should be ascertained if it is not due to teething or worms, and the proper treatment instituted, if so caused. If connected with derangement of the catamenia, masturbation, or spermatorrhoea, the treatment for these complaints is necessary. The anti-spasmodics are indicated in every case, the best of which is blue vervain, although valerian, belladonna, scull-cap, etc., are also good. The general condition of the system should receive strict attention.
On page 469 I have given a remedy which will prove in eight cases out of ten a simple and certain cure. I make no secret of its composition. I have sent the prescription to many thousands gratuitously. A fair trial will convince every one that it is one of the most potent remedies ever discovered for the cure of epilepsy, falling sickness, or fits. When this medicine is taken, the spasms gradually grow lighter and lighter, and finally disappear altogether, restoring the patient to the most perfect normal health. Its effect is truly wonderful. The time to acomplish a cure is usually from two to three months.