Apoplexy

Apoplexy Definition and Explanation

Apoplexy is a term used to describe internal bleeding and the accompanying symptoms. Historically, the term originated in the medical profession to describe the phenomenon of patients becoming suddenly weak and becoming unconscious. It was not well understood why an apoplexy would occur until the mid to late 1800s. Patients could have been bleeding from an internal organ or from vessels in their brain, and the diagnosis was still apoplexy. The symptoms include everything from dizziness, confusion, weakness, and loss of consciousness. Eventually it was understood that an apoplexy arises from internal bleeding, and can happen in a wide variety of organs and tissues.

Once this was understood the term was eventually phased out, and replaced by more specific terms which describe exactly where the bleeding is occurring. An ovarian apoplexy, for example, is weakness and unconsciousness caused by bleeding in the ovaries. A cerebral apoplexy can now be more accurately described based on advanced imaging of the brain. An brain aneurysm, or a balloon-like enlargement of blood vessels in the brain, may cause apoplexy if it leaks blood, ruptures completely, or even puts pressure on other vessels and parts of the brain. Thus, doctors now prefer to not refer to simply an apoplexy, but describe the actual organ and vessel losing blood and causing the patient to lose consciousness.

It should also be noted that apoplexy has also been used to describe frustration, in a metaphorical manner. Historically, it was assumed that tension on the arteries caused apoplexy. Thus, people associated it with being overly frustrated and stressed out. We now understand that diet and exercise are more responsible for clogged arteries. It is unlikely that a healthy person can simply become frustrated enough to start bleeding internally.

Quiz

1. Why is the term apoplexy slightly ambiguous?
A. It does not describe where the bleeding is occurring
B. It has been used it the past to metaphorically describe frustration
C. Both of the above

Answer to Question #1
C is correct. Apoplexy was originally used because no one understood the cause of the sudden unconsciousness. We now know that it is caused by internal bleeding, and use different and more specific terms to identify which tissues or organs are bleeding. Further, if a non-medical professional says they experienced apoplexy, they could simply be speaking hyperbolically.

References

  • Black, J. R. (1875). Apoplexy. Popular Science Monthly(6), 705-709.
  • Dictionary.com. (2018, 2 15). Apoplexy. Retrieved from DIctionary.com: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/apoplexy
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