Consciousness Of The Action Of The Heart
( Originally Published 1921 )
BEING CONSCIOUS OF THE HEART AND WHAT IT MEANS
THERE is probably no one living who can not become conscious of the heart and circulation by a sufficient concentration of his attention, but most people a good part of the time do not know that they have a heart or that their blood is circulating. There are other persons who, on account of disease or perhaps intense nervousness, are conscious all the time that their hearts are beating and their blood circulating.
Palpitation is the general name that is given to the condition when one is conscious of the heart beat. Considering the circumstances that have just been explained, it is easy to see that palpitation may be very important, or it may not be important at all.
When a young child runs too fast and too far, he has intense beating of his heart, and often gets a pain in his side. The child, in fact, has brought about a dilatation of his heart and has thrown it into disorder for the time being. But no one would think for a moment of saying that the child has heart disease or has suffered any permanent damage. A child's heart is very flexible and is not easily injured by anything that the healthy child can do, with its light body and nimble muscles. When an older person overexerts himself so that he has considerable palpitation of the heart and a severe pain in his side, it is of much importance, because the chances are that injury has been done and a condition brought about that makes the heart more easily disturbed on another occasion. When consciousness of the heart is represented by a regular beat, as often happens at night when lying in a particular position, and the beat is not rapid, it probably does not mean anything. When the heart beats rapidly at times, so that the beats can hardly be counted, that is important and is true palpitation that may be of a serious kind.
The real trouble with the matter of being conscious of the heart beat is not that people notice it too much, but that the most serious forms of heart trouble are not attended by any pain or discomfort or even consciousness of the heart whatsoever. This is so much true that it may be said that heart disease is a disease without symptoms. These arise ordinarily only when there has been some important involvement of some organ. And that happens only when heart disease has lasted for a long time. Many people discover that they have heart trouble when they try to get their lives insured, or when they are examined for government service.
What, then, are the signs of heart disease? So long as the heart is able to do its work, there are no signs. A valve may leak or be obstructed, the heart may be enormously enlarged or much undeveloped, or the muscle may be badly involved, but as long as the heart does not break down in its task of circulating the blood there are no conscious signs of any trouble.
When, however, the heart fails to pump the blood there is a stagnation in the lungs and the person has shortness of breath, or there is stag-nation in the extremities and they become swollen and puffed up, or in the liver and there is pain when pressure is applied over it. So we may say that shortness of breath, swelling of the feet, and tenderness over the liver are the cardinal signs of heart trouble. Up to the time when these appear, its existence can be proved only by an examination of the machine itself, which may reveal defects that later on will of course cause the cardinal signs.
Consciousness of the heart beat may depend upon so many different causes that, while it should lead to an examination, it should not lead to any great fear of heat trouble.