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Ferrum phosphoricum - Still vague after all these years
I read Roger Morrison's article in this issue (November, 2002) with interest which turned to fascination when he got to the part about European homeopaths being better prescribers in acute illnesses than American homeopaths, because they give Ferrum phosphoricum more easily and more often. Ferrum phosphoricum is a vague little remedy—a remedy with so few indications that it is prescribed on that basis alone—for the first stage of an acute illness with a fever. I write as a British homeopath (Brits consider themselves Europeans now) who gave up on Ferrum phosphoricum long ago, after prescribing it at the beginning of a few acute cases for fevers without any other symptoms (as indicated) and getting no response. It happens that I also witnessed some apparently nasty results in three or four patients of a colleague of mine. Simple fevers developed into much more serious complaints that needed hospitalization and heavy, prolonged medical interventions to save these patients' lives. I decided not to use Ferrum phosphoricum anymore—just in case.
Fever is the body's first response to infection—it's the body's first line of defense against infection. I deduced that when a fever is brought down, be it with Aspirin or Ferrum phosphoricum (as opposed to allowing it to run its course), then a more serious condition may develop as a result. If a homeopathic remedy is prescribed on a single, superficial symptom then theoretically, an underlying (more serious) condition can surface. I hesitate to use the word suppression—a word that has become rather charged in homeopathic circles but—I happen to have observed and tracked suppression in my own practice (not with Ferrum phosphoricum and not in acute illnesses but that is definitely another story) and those of other homeopaths, and, although it is rare, I have witnessed it with my own eyes. It makes me nervous to treat a person with a fever without knowing where that fever is headed or having at least a couple of other good symptoms on which to hang a prescription. I have a profound respect for fevers and their ability to collaborate in the healing process.
I studied Ferrum phosphoricum at that time and what I read led me to wonder if it had been fully proven. Choudhuri confirms that it hasn't: "This remedy has not been fully proved. Most of our symptoms are derived from the writings of Schuessler and from stray clinical experiences of homeopathic practitioners."
I was literally brought up on Schuessler's Tissue Salts and in homeopathic school was taught them separately—as a bona fide group of healing remedies in their own right either to be used alone or as a complement to constitutional homeopathic treatment.
I read Roger Morrison's article a second time and wondered whether I might have drawn the wrong conclusion all those (23) years ago. Maybe those patients who ended up in the hospital were developing life-threatening diseases anyway, and Ferrum phosphoricum did nothing. Maybe I had given up on this remedy prematurely.
I pulled out my study notes on Ferrum phosphoricum and immersed myself in studying hundreds of Materia Medica from the classical to the contemporary in ReferenceWorks (homeopathic software). They all say virtually the same thing—repeating each other with minor variations through each and every homeopathic age.
I clarified the picture for myself, for my own development and in order to have this remedy more immediately at hand should the occasion arise to use it. Here are my summations. I found it particularly useful to compare it with other, similar remedies—to help me to remember it and to know what symptoms to look for when differentiating between those remedies.
First stage inflammations with sudden onset and a paucity of symptoms
Ferrum phosphoricum is indicated in the first stages of an acute inflammatory infection—such as cold or flu, sore throat, cough, croup, cystitis, otitis media (earache), pneumonia, etc.—but it is a difficult remedy to recognize because there are so few clear indications for its use.
If Aconite doesn't work for an acute inflammation after one to two hours then Ferrum phosphoricum should be given next if there are still no strong symptoms, if a symptom picture has not yet developed.
"You know that the practicing physician does not use Acon. as frequently as some of our other remedies, for the reason that he is seldom called in time. When he reaches the case, the Acon. stage of invasion has usually passed. Ferrum phos. follows directly after Acon. and for that reason we often give the former, when if we had seen the case earlier our first prescription would have been Acon. "
—Plain Talks by Willard Ide Pierce, MD
High, dry fever with thirst, without secretions: skin is dry and hot and there is no perspiration.Face flushed: typically the face flushes easily (and suddenly) and this flushing alternates with pallor.
Congestion with dryness, redness, and throbbing pains
Blood rushes to the part affected (head/eye/throat/ chest) and causes feelings of heat and fullness and pulsating/throbbing (like Belladonna) or pressing pains. There is no suppuration, no exudation, and no discharge.
Chest (respiratory) infections
Sudden onset of croup or any cough.Give Ferrum phos in the first stage of a cough after Aconite but before Bryonia.The cough is short and hacking. Coughs up blood or blood-streaked mucus.
Easy bleeding of bright red blood with any complaint. Nosebleeds with any acute illness—especially with a cold. Nosebleed relieves the headache. Weakness after bleeding (with pallor) because of a tendency to anemia.
There's a tendency to "hilarity"—to loquacity and mirth (like Coffea).
Sudden chill (like Aconite)—especially if chilled while sweating on a hot day (and the sweating stops suddenly)
Injuries and surgery
A fall or a heavy blow or over-lifting.
Harvey Farrington (Homeopathy and Homeopathic Prescribing: A Study Course for the Graduate Physician) tells us that after an injury with swelling, heat and throbbing but before there is bruising, "Ferrum phos will relieve more promptly, because of its power to remove congestion. Arnica may be indicated later."
Phatak tell us that it "controls soreness and bleeding after operations" especially after a tonsillectomy.
Deafness after a cold (like Pulsatilla). Right side is more affected.
Generally worse for cold, from a draft of cold air except for painful parts (headache, toothache, etc.) which are better for cold compresses. Neither Aconite nor Belladonna are ameliorated by cold applications. Warmth ameliorates. Worse exertion and standing—and that is why someone needing Ferrum phos may be lying down. Gelsemium are more prone to be lying down because they are not capable of standing.
Gentle motion can be helpful (like Pulsatilla) and is a nice contradictory indication because they are so much worse for exertion (and therefore, this is a possible guiding symptom).
A brief comparison
Aconite has a full, bounding pulse and is anxious and restless.
Gelsemium has a slow, weak pulse and is drowsy
Ferrum phos has a quick pulse.
Belladonna onsets are more sudden and violent. Belladonna is more manic than either Ferrum phos or Aconite and is aggravated by touch and jar.
Ferrum phos is complementary to Bryonia and is followed well by Bryonia.
If you have any acute illness cases treated successfully with Ferrum phosphoricum, please send them to Homeopathy Today at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to publish them.
About the author:
Miranda Castro is a British homeopath who has been living happily in the U.S. since 1994. She is a Fellow of the Society of Homeopaths (UK) and past President of the North American Society of Homeopaths. She is author of The Complete Homeopathy Handbook, Homeopathy for Pregnancy, Birth and Your Baby's First Years, and A Homeopathic Guide to Stress.She lives, practices, and teaches in Southeast Florida and can be contacted at email@example.com