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Drugs And The Heart

( Originally Published 1921 )

Not all drugs affect the heart, but many of them do, and some profoundly. When the heart has become accustomed to a drug, as for instance, morphine or alcohol, if these are suddenly withdrawn, serious heart weakness is apt to ensue ; so that the danger to the heart arises rather from the sudden stoppage than from the continued use of them. Indirectly, of course, by undermining the system, such drugs at length weaken the heart.

There is another class of drugs that is exceedingly dangerous, particularly because they are so often taken thoughtlessly. These are the so called coal tar products which include practically all the pain and headache remedies, such as phenacetine, acetanilid, or orangeine, antikamnia, and a thousand other drugs, sometimes as innocent-sounding as "bromo-seltzer." It is quite safe to assume that any remedy advertised to relieve headache and other pains contains some of these drugs, and that in large quantities it is dangerous. In hospital work during every grippe epidemic a number of people who are treated die from the effects of their own treatment of this disease, administered before admission to the hospital. It is not at all uncommon to find people who have so confirmed a habit of taking these drugs that they are uncomfortable if they have to go without them. While these drugs are dangerous for any one, they are particularly so for a heart patient. Many such patients. find, from their own sensations, that they are weakened in this way. When a person has formed the drug habit, his lips often have a bluish color due to the effect of the drug.

The nurse's duty in this respect is evident. She. should not allow her patient to take any drugs except under the direction of the physician. It is the duty of those who have charge of persons who are ill to discover the presence of any drug habit that may exist. A person having the drug habit is often totally unconscious of the habit because the drug is taken under some innocent name. The new laws of the United States have done much good in unmasking the hidden dangers of proprietary medicines.

In this connection it should be known that there is no drug the taking of which can not become a habit, and as a safeguard it is a good plan for every one to dispense with whatever medicines he is in the habit of taking, using them only under the guidance of a physician. Medicines are often taken for a long time when they are unnecessary; this is particularly true of laxatives. Many persons who take laxatives can stop them by simply giving them up and allowing nature a few days to become established in her own rhythm.

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