Why It's Dangerous To Use Cathartics When In Pain
( Originally Published 1936 )
We discussed above the common habit that people have of prescribing for and dosing themselves. All doctors, of course, preach against this, but in so doing I believe they overreach themselves because they antagonize people, who think they are assuming that attitude for selfish purposes and financial gain. But the doctors have considerable reason on their side, although I do not believe it is possible entirely to break up the habit. It is proper, however, to call attention to some of the dangers which may follow this practice.
We said that these dangers were five, the first of which is to take a drug in the belief that you are treating a trivial condition when the disease you have is really serious. Nothing, perhaps, illustrates this better than the all too common practice of taking a cathartic in the presence of a stomach ache.
Most stomach aches, it is true, are trivial, but for very few even of these is a cathartic the proper remedy. Most of them are better treated with a stomach sedative, like bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). If a stomach ache is due to some substance in the intestine which is irritative, and the removal of which would stop the stomach ache, the ache itself is a sign that it is going to be removed. Because the ache is merely a symptom of muscular action of the intestine (peristalsis), which means that the offending substance is being moved onward.
At any rate, it is always safer to use an enema than it is a cathartic. The danger of using a cathartic for a stomach ache is that every once in a while the stomach ache may be appendicitis, and the last thing in the world that anyone should do in the presence of acute appendicitis is to take a cathartic. Because the cathartic merely stirs the appendix up and is liable to rupture it, causing peritonitis.
Druggists for years have been in the habit of carelessly giving customers who apply for something for stomach ache, a dose of salts. I think I have finally taught one to use paregoric instead of salts, and I hope to teach others that this is the safer procedure.
If you simply can't bear to employ a physician when you have a stomach ache, perhaps there are a few rules that might help out. Pain in the abdomen, with fever, no matter if ever so slight, should contra-indicate the use of a cathartic. Pain with constipation and vomiting should also, because with appendicitis there is usually fever and vomiting and entire paralysis of the bowel. Pain in the abdomen, with diarrhea or griping, is a set of symptoms in which the use of a cathartic usually does no harm.