In War and Peace, Count Bezukhov's doctors gave him Cream of Tartar after his stroke. What purpose did that serve? I haven't been able to find anything about medical benefits of cream of tartar that seem even vaguely related to this condition; what exactly did they think that giving him that would accomplish?

  • Yeah? I haven't found any medical benefits to consuming rhino horn, either... doesn't mean people don't believe it does something :P Also: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium_bitartrate#Medicinal_use I'm not sure why they wanted him to poop but...
    – Catija
    Feb 22, 2017 at 19:34
  • Charles II was administered a general purgative after he had a stroke (probably Cream of Tartar, which probably killed him) but that was nearly 150 years earlier. By the time of Count Bezukhov, surgeons were aware of caratoid surgery for the specific treatment of strokes.
    – Valorum
    Feb 22, 2017 at 19:47
  • @Catija I'm not sure what your point is then - as I stated in my question, I'm aware of the modern uses of it, I just don't see why they think any of those uses would be useful for stroke victims. Feb 23, 2017 at 4:01
  • Then maybe you should have actually innumerated what you did find in the question rather than just glossing over it... seeing as I'm not the only one who said that.
    – Catija
    Feb 23, 2017 at 4:10

1 Answer 1


Notably this isn't the Count's first stroke. It is, in fact his sixth. Doctors have known for centuries that victims of stroke can become constipated and suffer from fecal impaction as a result of loss of muscular function in the colon. This can become highly painful and ultimately will lead to bowel infection. A small dose of a purgative such as Cream of Tartar (potassium bitartrate) administered with plain water would result in looser stools and less chance of constipation.

Post-stroke constipation prevalence rate in stroke patients is 30-60%.


Constipation not only leads to a low quality of life, but also interferes with rehabilitation treatment because of problems in bowel movement control.

Bowel Function in Acute Stroke Patients


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