Soldier’s Heart or Effort Syndrome
Soldier’s Heart or Effort Syndrome: Following observations of American Civil War soldiers who exhibited “a form of cardiac palpitation … very rarely met with in civil practice,” J. M. Da Costa and other Philadelphia physicians identified a cardiac phenomenon which he termed “irritable heart.” Known also as “soldier’s heart” or “effort syndrome”, this phenomenon was another ailment commonly seen in World War I. Arthur Hurst stated that it “may be associated with prolonged mental strain and insufficient sleep, on a heart and nervous system weakened by the action of some form of toxaemia.” The toxemia could be associated with a number of different diseases, including typhoid fever, jaundice, trench fever, and dysentery, but Hurst also theorized that excessive smoking could be a contributing factor. The fever or toxemia weakens the system and exercise then leads to breathlessness, exhaustion, heart palpitations, and cold extremities. Rest and moderate exercise provided the best relief. Over 36,000 soldiers were discharged during the war from “heart disease” but many of these cases were not due to any organic defect but some form of effort syndrome.