Treating one Disease by Causing Another

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Treating one disease by causing another is a mainstream therapeutic strategy, Bruce Charlton notes — especially in psychiatry:

Malarial Therapy of GPI (“General Paralysis of the Insane” — cerebral syphilis)

Patients with incurable and fatal GPI were deliberately infected with malaria. The very high pyrexia (temperature) killed the syphilis germ, but (hopefully) not the patient. The patient was then (hopefully) cured of their malaria using quinine.


Patients with chronic and incurable anxiety or tension were deliberately given brain damage, cutting off the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex from the rest of the brain. This made the patients docile and indifferent – which was presumed to be an improvement. The procedure became so popular that brain damage was inflicted on patients with less severe and probably temporary anxiety and other conditions, too.

Neuroleptics/Antipsychotics create Parkinson’s disease (or, rather, Parkinsonism, which may be reversible) for the treatment of fear, agitation, delusions, hallucinations, and hyperactivity

Patients with a range of very distressing psychological and psychotic symptoms were deliberately made to suffer from Parkinson’s disease by giving them dopamine blocking drugs. As well as producing the physical symptoms of Parkinsonism (tremor, stiffness, movement disorders), the drugs produced the psychological symptoms of Parkinsonism – emotional blunting and demotivation. Patients could no longer be bothered to respond to delusions and hallucinations.

Unfortunately patients could no longer be bothered to do anything else, either and became asocial, withdrawn, idle, and without the ability to experience pleasure. Also, when treatment was sustained, the drugs were found to have a permanent effect (tardive dyskinesia) and to create dependence — such that withdrawal often caused a psychotic breakdown.

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