Civil War Medicine: Medicinal Mercury and "Irritable Heart" | WYPR

Civil War Medicine: Medicinal Mercury and "Irritable Heart"

Oct 3, 2016

Jacob Da Costa is known for discovering "irritable heart syndrome," a cluster of symptoms in Civil War soldiers that included tunnel vision, rapid heart rate, and sweating.
Credit Scanned from "Thomas Eakins: Volume II" by Lloyd Goodrich. Harvard University Press, 1982. / Wikimedia Commons

Mercury. Today we think of it as a dangerous poison, but during the Civil War, medicinal mercury was used in varied forms to treat many illnesses. The National Museum of Civil War Medicine’s annual conference this week reminds us that what we know about health care today is shaped by the past. We’ll also hear about a syndrome affecting Civil War soldiers and veterans; with symptoms like rapid heart rate and tunnel vision, a medical historian tells us it looked a lot like what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

Our guests: Dr. Guy Hasegawa, editor of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine; and Ashley Bowen-Murphy, scholar of 19th century medical history and a doctoral candidate at Brown University.

Information about the conference available here.