Dysentery (Gr. ill, andintestine), an inflammation of the large intestine, producing frequent straining efforts at stool, attended by small and painful mucous and bloody discharges. Dysentery is more common in hot climates than in temperate ones; in summer and autumn than in winter and spring. It is subject to epidemic influences, being in some seasons frequent and fatal over an extensive region, and then almost disappearing for years. It is more common and severe in malarious districts. It sometimes breaks out and is excessively fatal in public institutions where the inmates have been subject to a vitiated atmosphere and an improper and innutritious diet; and it has often proved very destructive to armies. It is commonly attributed to the use of irritating and indigestible food, and to cold, particularly after the body has been debilitated by a prolonged exposure to heat. The milder cases are attended by little or no fever; but when the disease is severe fever is always present, and may precede though it more commonly follows the local manifestations.
There is often much pain and soreness in the lower part of the abdomen or extending along the track of the colon, and frequent calls to stool, attended with painful and often violent straining; the stools consist chiefly of mucus more or less tinged with blood, and sometimes mixed with membranous shreds, or they may consist of blood almost pure, or resemble the washings of flesh; their odor is not feculent, but faint and peculiar, and sometimes fetid; occasionally the neck of the bladder sympathizes with the neighboring bowel, and there is difficulty in passing urine.
While mild cases of dysentery are attended with no danger, when severe the disease is always serious and often fatal; or it may become chronic, and slowly break down the constitution. When death occurs, post mortem examination reveals the existence of inflammation and ulceration in the large intestine. The ulcers are often large, irregular in shape, laying bare the muscular and sometimes the peritoneal coat; between them the mucous membrane is thickened, often lined with false membrane, sometimes appearing as if struck with gangrene. - When the pain and tenderness are very considerable, the treatment may be commenced by the application of leeches over the track of the inflamed bowel; if any constipation has previously existed, a dose of castor oil, to which a few drops of laudanum have been added, may be given ; opiates and astringents may be afterward administered. From the fact that the rectum is the part of the intestinal canal most affected, opiates in the form of suppositories or enemata are found particularly useful. Calomel has been highly recommended in the treatment of the dysentery of tropical climates, but in temperate regions it is rarely necessary to resort to it. The patient should be confined to his bed, and the diet should be of the mildest and most unirritating character.
When the dysentery becomes chronic, the tenesmus subsides, the stools are more copious and loose, and contain pus; the complaint is apt to be tedious and intractable, and when recovery takes place, the digestive organs remain for a long time feeble and irritable. A strictly regulated diet, with the use of opium, combined with a small dose of sulphate of copper or nitrate of silver, are the means commonly had recourse to in its treatment.