Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/622

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IT has been said that no doctrine can ever attain a large degree of popularity without containing some admixture of truth. The rare exceptions from that rule do not include that most preposterous of all medical theories, the "Brunonian System of Physics." John Brown, M.D., of Preston, Scotland, divided all disorders of the human organism into "sthenic" and "asthenic" diseases: the former produced by an excess of vitality, and to be counteracted by bleeding and cathartics; the latter arising from a defect of vital power, and to be cured by beefsteaks and brandy, etc. The grain of truth in the chaff-barrel of absolute nonsense is the pathological influence of asthenia, or a deficiency of vital power. Impaired vitality can not be restored by alcoholic stimulants, but its causal connection with a large number of functional disorders admits of no doubt. Every process of the animal organism derives the impulse of its normal performance from a reserve fund of vital energy and the depletion of this fund impairs the efficiency of the organic functions. A man may be too tired to sleep. A child may be too feeble to breathe, too weak to assimilate its food. Exhaustion alone may lead to that total suspension of the vital process which we call death.

But generally asthenia is only a proximate cause of disease. It reveals a pre-established morbid diathesis by affecting the weakest part of the organism, and its influence becomes thus localized. The affected part may become the center of attraction for a variety of asthenic agencies, for each successive attack increases the morbid diathesis, and thus, as it were, confirms the pathological precedent. This convergence of asthenic influences is most strikingly illustrated in the pathology of the asthmatic affections. Asthma, or chronic dyspnœa, a torpor of the semi-voluntary muscles which effect the process of respiration, has thus far not been traced to its original cause. Professor Reese ascribes it to a spasm of the muscular fibers inclosing the bronchial tubes; Dr. E. Bock defines it as a diminished elasticity of the pulmonary air-cells, caused by an undue dilation of the lungs (as in violent exercise). Villemin considers it as a purely nervous affection. In its most frequent form, however, it seems to be a legacy of arrested tuberculosis—an intermittent affection induced by a tendency to a pulmonary torpor that may remain latent for an indefinite time, but unmistakably connected with an asthenic proximate cause. Chronic asthma, in the strictest sense of the word, occurs only during the last stage of pulmonary consumption. When the lungs have been reduced