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ALKALI: - The word alkali is derived from Arabic words meaning ash of plants, and owes its significance to the fact that the ash con tains potassium salts.
The most familiar alkalizes are caustic soda and caustic potash, the hydroxides of the alkali metals sodium and potassium respec tively. Lithium and cerium are other alkali metals, compounds of which are used in medicine, and ammonia in solution acts as an alkali. The oxides of calcium, barium, strontium and magnesium are known as the alkaline earths. All these substances form salts with acids; they are able to neutralize acids and are themselves neutralized by acids. A substance is neutral when it is neither acid nor alkaline. In cases of poisoning by acids or alkalies each will, therefore, neutralise or form the chemical antidote of the other.
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In consequence of their power to neutralize acids, the alkalies, alkaline earths and their carbonates are sometimes called antacids. In acidity of the stomach, whether this is due to excess of the natural hydrochloric acid or to fatty acids produced in indigestion, antacids such as bicarbonate of soda will neutralize the id and bring great comfort to the patient..
In contrast with this effect of an alkali when it is added to hydrochloric acid already present in the stomach, say, when bicar bonate of soda is given after a meal, is its action when given about twenty minutes before a meal. It then increases the amount of hydrochloric acid poured into the stomach.
Thus, when indigestion as due to hyperacidity, or excess of acid, alkalies should be given after a meal, but when at is due to feeble digestive powers with an insufficiency of hydrochloric acid, alkalies should be given twenty minutes before the meal.
Alkalies liquefy mucous secretion and, therefore, when they are given in bronchial affections, with a tough adhesive sputum, they are of great use in loosening the cough. The blood and the other body fluids are; alkaline, more or less, and so are most of the secretions. In certain disorders of meta bolism the blood and lymph tend to become less alkaline than normally (see Acidosis). Alkalies such as potassium bicarbonate in large doses relieve symptoms due to this condition.
The gastric juice is acid, of course, and the urine normally is faintly acid. It is alkaline, however just after a meal. In testing whether or not the urine or any other liquid is alkaline, a piece of red litmus paper is dipped into it, alkalinity being shown by the paper becoming blue.
ALKALAEMIA: - This is a condition, also known as alkalosis, in which there is an increase in the alkali reserve of the blood and a corresponding diminution in its hydro genion content. The urine becomes alkaline, and there may be shortness of breath, loss of appetite and vomiting. It occurs in heart failure and at high altitudes, and may follow large doses of sodium bicarbonate or other alkali. See Acidosis.