The Influence of Sea Voyages Upon Women (1885)

Of all the methods of treating illness by change of habits, none has received a higher approbation than a sea-voyage. Yet the physiological basis for this kind of treatment has never been quite adequately explained. It is very difficult for anyone on board-ship, without a previous or subsequent knowledge of his patients, to judge exactly what effect the sea-influences have brought about, and a ship-surgeon may not always be a most skillful observer.

On the deck of a steamship circa 1890

"We are very glad to notice a paper recently read by Dr. J. A. Irwin, in New York, and now issued in the form of a pamphlet, which embodies his experience during the last six years, of which the greater part was spent at sea, and during which he had altogether fifteen thousand people in charge. He has confined himself to the study of the genito-uterine functions, and brings forward some conclusions worthy of attention. Many of the more considerable changes in habits of life alter the methods of menstruation. This is especially the case during a sea-voyage.

Dr. Irwin finds that the customary discomforts and the frequency of the catamenia. are greatly increased at sea. This phenomenon is much less marked, as we might expect, among the steerage-passengers, who are less easily affected. These results he attributes entirely to the motion of the vessel, which induces congestion of the pelvic viscera.

He throws in a pathological explanation of "the initial lesion," which " takes place within the semicircular canals of the internal ear, where the endolymph and the otoliths, following the irregular movements of the vessel, convey to the sensorium erroneous impressions of the position of the head in space." Such explanations are beyond the field of profitable study, but the facts seem well established by Dr. Irwin's observations, and are recognized by such authorities as Dr. Fordyce Barker. Dr. T. G. Thomas, however, and Dr. Tyler Smith, hardly agree; and there is undoubtedly room for farther observation, and "the initial lesion" may, for a time, be left in the background.

The second conclusion of Dr. Irwin is that sea-sickness tends to abortion or premature delivery.   The sickness of kinetia, as he calls it, lays a very different result from the sickness of pregnancy, and is dangerous for the early months, and, in a less degree, for all except the sixth anil seventh. Here, again, those who have studied the results of the Atlantic passage most carefully are not unanimous in agreement with Dr. trwip. The Stench writers all agree with him, but have far less experience. The whole subject, indeed, needs a wider collection of facts from Which to draw any sure conclusions; and, as a step towards such a Collection, we feel indebted to Dr. Irwin's pamphlet. .

Source: "Influence of Sea-Voyaging Upon Women." The British Medical Journal, Volume 1, no. 1276 (1885): 1212.

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