The Tonsils And Heart Disease
( Originally Published 1921 )
Ever since the world began, at least as long as we have any record, people have tried to alter the human body in some way with the idea of increasing its efficiency or guarding it against certain dangers. The same thing is true with regard to animals. Among savage nations, mutilation of the body usually pertained to some superstition, and was not intelligently devised. The latest development of this ancient attempt to make man better suited to his environment is found in the rapidly growing custom of removing the tonsils and adenoids of young children. As this becomes more frequent, and as the children who have been so treated grow older, we can look with confidence for a diminution in the amount of heart disease.
In hardly an instance of heart disease can it be said that the tonsils are the principal cause of the condition, or indeed the principal cause of the irritation of the heart. They rather constitute in most people with heart disease an additional source of irritation to the whole system, and as such are worth attending to.
Whether the tonsils serve any useful purpose or not, it seems quite evident that they form a point of entry for poisons which cause diseases of the rheumatic group, and rheumatic diseases are those which have a tendency to cause dam-age or degeneration of the heart. This constitutes a strong argument for the removal of tonsils a procedure which promises so much good and is attended by so little disadvantage is certainly to be advised.
Among older people who have already acquired heart trouble, the removal of the tonsils must be much more carefully considered. People with heart trouble are not good subjects for an operation, and much disappointment is also to be expected in the results. The damage has already been done, and the system has probably long ceased to be affected by the tonsils. However, if the tonsils are diseased, even in a small degree, they constitute a source of irritation, and a distinct improvement in general condition follows their removal.
Besides the benefit of the operation as such, an operation often constitutes a valid excuse for a period of rest and general medical supervision that gives the person a fresh start in the care of his health. So, a certain proportion of people are benefited by operations, even tho the operation itself is not the direct cause of the benefit. On the other hand, an operation is often a shock from which people are a long time in recovering. There are so many elements involved in the question of any operation that the final decision should rest with the family physician, who knows all the attendant circumstances.
If the tonsils are operated on, they should be completely removed, as merely burning or clipping them does not prove of permanent value.