( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A class of medicines that act strongly on the bowels as purgatives. Their number is very large, and they may be divided into several classes : mechanical, including unbolted meal of various kinds, fruits, and mustard seed ; oily, as castor and croton oil ; saline, as magnesia and its carbonate, sulphate, and citrate, sulphate, and phosphate of soda, etc. ; acid or bitter, as rhubarb, senna, colocynth, and aloes ; resinous, as jalap, gamboge, scammony; and mercurial, as calomel and blue pill. Their action varies greatly, from the mild and almost natural effect of magnesia and aloes, to the violent purging of jalap and gamboge. Cathartics are very commonly used in domestic medicine, and probably no class of drugs is so frequently abused ; a resort to them being so easy as to lead in many instances to the neglect of highly important hygienic rules. A due attention to diet, exercise, and bathing would be a far more effective remedy than any cathartics for a majority of the difficulties for which the latter are used. In many cases, however, their use is necessary, and directions for them are given under the various diseases. Castor oil, Epsom salts, magnesia, aloes, rhubarb, and senna are the only cathartics that should be used without medical advice ; the most violent ones may produce serious results. No cathartics, however, either should or can be relied upon to cure constipation, to "work off a cold," or to relieve dyspepsia ; in all such cases a cure can be looked for only in a due observance of hygienic laws.