Ergot induces two states, which have been denominated gangrenous ergotism and convulsive ergotism. The former is characterised by formication (a feeling as if insects were creeping over the skin), great depression of the vital powers, coldness of the extremities, followed by gangrene The gangrene is probably produced by obstruction of the vessels. The convulsive form induced by the use of ergotized bread prevailed in Silesia in 1722, in the environs of Berlin in 1722, and at Wirtemberg in 1736. The symptoms observed were itching and tingling of the feet, followed by violent cardialgia and pains in the head and hands. These pains in a short time subsided, the head became heavy, swimming, and a mist before the eyes ensued. The fingers and hands became so spasmodically contracted, that no force could straighten them, and the pain was described as equalling that of luxation. Some of the persons became totally blind, and others had double vision; the memory failed, the conversation was wild and unintelligible, the movements staggering and awkward. Some became maniacal, and others comatose. Cpisthotonos usually occurred. Of 500 patients, 300 children under five years of age perished. Those who survived were a long time before they perfectly recovered. The peculiar circumstances under which Ergot evidences its poisonous effects are undetermined; as Pentin, Froggart, Michel!, Parmentier, Murray, and others have exhibited it in large and frequently repeated doses, without observing any ill effects to follow. (Wright.¶)
As an expulsive agent in Labours. Within a period varying from live minutes to half an hour, on an average in about fifteen minutes, after the Ergot has been swallowed, the uterine contractions become stronger and more frequent, so that, in fact, they may be said to run into one another, there being no distinct interval between them; and these continue, in ordinary cases, until the child is expelled. In some rare cases, it causes vomiting, headache, delirium, and great disturbance of the cerebro-spinal system. Dr. Churchill* mentions five or six instances in his own practice; and the same effects have occasionally been observed by others. Dr. Hardy observed, that in the majority of cases, the administration of the Ergot was followed by a marked diminution in the frequency of the mother's pulse, and a corresponding change in the action of the foetal heart. In some, this depression of the pulse remained for many days. In most cases, it produces no ill effects, either temporary or permanent, on the mother; but even here there are exceptions. Mr. Grantham states that he has seen the uterus impaired as to its future contractile power, after the use of large doses of the Ergot, and that he has had frequent occasion to apply the forceps, to assist the parturient efforts of those women whose previous labours had been hastened with this drug.
* Obstetric Cases, p. 233.
Lond. Med. Gaz., June:28, 1834.
% Synopsis, &c., 4tn Ed., p. 19S.
§ Annal. de Med., Oct. 1S39. || Ed. Med. Surg.Journ.,,!an.l,1840 ¶ Op. cit.