Consumption, in medicine, is a very comprehensive term, including all those diseases, in which the body, from a defect of nou-rishment, is gradually reduced to a state of debility and emaciation. This fatal disorder may arise from a great variety of causes, such as a mal-conformation of the trunk; straitness of the chest; intemperance of whatever kind ; obstructions in the pulmonary vessels; suppression of any natural evacuations; as likewise in consequence of pleurisies, coughs, catarrhs, di-arrhoeas ; grief; intense study, Sec. More frequently, however, it ori-ginates from a neglected cold, espe-cially in constitutions where a peculiar hereditary disposition prevails, without any other discoverable cause.
Accordingly as consumptions are accompanied with fever, or exempt from that symptom, they may be divided into three classes : 1. Such as are occasioned by the hectic fever, which, however, is not the consequence of exulcerated lungs: See Hectic Fever; 2. Those in which the wasting of the body, as well as the fever, arise from pulmonic ulcers: See Lungs ; and 3. Where the gradual emaciation is unconnected with any febrile symptoms. Of the last species only, which is generally called atrophy, we shall treat in this place.
An atrophy always proceeds from a want of due assimilation of the nutritious juices, so that there is obviously a defective appetite, and a vitiated digestion, from the very commencement of the disease. What share the depression of the animal spirits, or an unusual irritability of the nerves, may have in the production of this malady, appears to be doubtful; and they may be considered as the effect, rather than the cause of the complaint which pervades the whole system.
Symptoms of Atrophy : General languor of body and mind ; an unhealthy look of the face; a light and unsettled sleep; the appetite now voracious, now nauseating, but usually most desirous of cold food ; straitness of the breast, and uneasiness after eating; great internal heat and dryness of the tongue; gradual wasting of the body ; continual feverishness and thirst, especially during the night; at length, a fever nearly resembling a he6tic, and a total privation of strength and spirits.
Children and young persons are very liable to this disease : the former, from the unhealthy milk of a nurse addicted to passions, particularly grief and anger ; the latter, from the use of improper food; heavy and feculent malt-liquors; the suppression of night-sweats, especially when occasioned by large draughts of cold beverage; by eating voraciously of crude, thick, heavy and obstruent food ; drinking spirituous liquors; long continuance of worms, Sec. - Scro-phuious adults, and those who have lost large quantities of blood, are also subject to atrophy.
Although this is one of the least dangerous species of consumption, yet, when neglected in its commencement, it frequently proves fatal. Hence the evacuations by stool ought to be strictly attended to, and if the stomach be foul, a gentle emetic previously administered. A diluent and nourishing diet, as circumstances may re-qui:e; country air; but particularly sweet whey,> and the mucilaginous bitters, such as decoctions of the eryngo-leaved liverwort, and the wood of quassia, will be of eminent service. No remedy whatever is, in this complaint, equal to the warm bath, which should be gradually reduced to a cool, and at length to a cold temperature, as soon as the patient is able to bear it.—> (See vol. i. p. 190 and 191). - Among the various domestic medicines, which have been occa. sionally employed for the cure of what is called a nervous atrophy, we are from experience convinced, that none are better calculated to restore an emaciated frame, than the conjoined use of the Salep-root, vulgarly denominated Female fool-stones, or Meadow Orchis (Orchis Morio, L.), and the jelly obtained from the red garden-snail (Helix Pomatia, L.) : Two drams of the former, in powder, boiled in a pint of whey to the consistence of a thick mucilage, ought to be taken twice a day; and from six to eight of the latter dissolved over a slow fire, in equal quantities of milk and water, with the addition of a little cinnamon and sugar, should be used every morning. But, if the patient's appetite be considerably impaired, he may begin the course of these remedies in much smaller dose, which might be imperceptibly increased.
All symptomatical consumptions, however, are so far incurable, as they depend upon the particular disorders from which they originate ; and, if the latter can be remedied by art, there is no danger to be apprehended from the former : hence it is of the utmost importance to distinguish a simple atrophy from a confirmed hectic, or a pulmonary consumption. In the last mentioned two cases, all the symptoms are more violent, and either the lungs, or the tracheal, mesenteric, and other glands, are exulcerated ; whereas, in an atrophy, those glands are only indurated, or otherwise obstructed. - And though we disapprove of those over-nice distinctions, which serve to perplex rather than to instruct, yet, in this case, it is essentially necessary to discriminate between an atrophy and the rickets, scro-pliula, and that consumptive weakness of children, who pine away for want of a due supply from the breast, or in consequence of diseases preying upon the constitution of the mother, or nurse. Indeed, there is but too much reason to believe, that the foundation of consumptive diseases is often laid in the cradle, by the faulty management of nurses, and the ill-judged tenderness of parents; by keeping children too warm ; permitting them the breast too long ; and the imprudent administration of opiates ; - practices not less detrimental than common. Thus, Dr. R. Russell justly remarks, the process of converting aliment into chyle is injured, the habit of body rendered lax, the blood becomes too serous, the glands destined to moisten the joints increase in bulk, the heads of the bones are enlarged, and the glands of the mesentery, chest, and neck, are obstructed, till at length those of the lungs become also affected.
The alarming increase of consumptions, in this country, affords an ample field for medical speculators. It is no less astonishing than true, that about one-third of those who die in London, fall victims to that merciless disease, if the bills of mortality be taken as the basis of that calculation. In the three years of 1796, 1797, and 1799, the number of deaths, in the Bri-tish metropolis, is stated to be 52,237 ; and among these were, under the general head of consumptions, 17,559. Although the framers of these bills have probably classed many other* chronic disorders under the head of decline and consumption, so that, perhaps, one-half may be fairly deducted from their statement, and referred to other maladies, yet even the remaining number of about 3000 annually, in London alone, is sufficient to serve as a warning to every parent, and head of a family, in order to avoid those causes which we have before recited.