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HEART DISEASES: DIAGNOSIS - REFLEXES

The heart responds almost instantly to any irritation of the skin. Similarly, it is affected by anything which disturbs the mucous membranes — whether these be in nose, bronchial system or any part of the alimentary canal. The significance of these effects operates in two directions: by producing deliberate, gentle stimulation of the skin one may observe whether an ineffectively operating heart improves its performance, as it normally should: by discovering whether some disorder of digestion or bowel state exists, the cause of seemingly serious heart derangement may be shown to be comparatively trivial.

There are several situations in which these reflexes are involved, often without being properly recognized. At various times, there have been vogues for effervescent baths in the treatment of 'weakened' hearts. Whether the foaming or fizzing is produced by mechanical or chemical means, or by the application of naturally carbonated waters, the effect is the formation of innumerable little bubbles upon the skin. These move upward, run together and generally keep every square inch of skin in a state of gentle turmoil. (It seems probable that the major effects are associated with microscopic movements of the hairs, which are particularly sensitive to such tiny stimuli. It is also almost certain that little effect is due to any chemical action — such as absorption of gases by the skin — as has been occasionally suggested.)

The total effect is a powerful and general nervous stimulation, which affects the heart in the direction of stronger and more regular action. Obviously, the direct effect can be only temporary, but the psychological effect of gain in confidence may be lasting. The diagnostic significance of this phenomenon is that if the patient can be given a feeling of well-being by such a bath, it indicates the presence of fair reserves in his constitution, and thus the probability of a good response to more constructive and lasting forms of treatment.

In a much simpler way, the naturopath may carry out a comparable test by tickling or gently scratching the skin over the heart, while taking readings of blood-pressure and pulse-rate. The changes which occur can give useful guidance as to the patient's reserves and the suitability of various forms of treatment. (Although not a routine consulting-room technique, the effect of skin-stimulation upon an enlarged heart can be observed on direct fluoroscopic observation — as James C. Thomson used to demonstrate regularly to his students.)

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Cardio & Blood