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Therapeutic effects of mineral-, thermal-, and medicinal waters

A branch of science that deals with the effects and the utilization of medicinal waters is called balneology. Balneotherapy is built on the knowledge of balneology and this therapy is to be applied by a trained medical expert, called balneotherapist.  Balneotherapeutical treatments are not prescribed in themselves, but they are usually combined with other cures including mudpack, medical massage, physiotherapy, or electrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is also a water-related treatment and it utilizes the physical properties of water to have a beneficial effect on health. These physical properties are temperature, pressure and bouyancy

a) The therapeutic effects of physical properties of water :

  • Temperature : Hot (32-37°C) – blood vessels dilate , heart rate and breathing are faster. Circulation speeds up, blood pressure changeable. Warm (21-31°C) – relaxing, pain relieving, analgesic effect. Blood vessels dilate, blood pressure goes down. Cold (below 21°C ) – blood vessels constrict, metabolism speeds up.
  • Buoyancy (larger in salty water!): easy movements, injured or worn out joints are easier to move.
  • Hydrostatic pressure: difference in pressure – boosts circulation and metabolism. In standing position the blood vessels in the leg are pressed, pressure increases in the abdomen and circulation toward the heart fastens.
  • Friction, flow: massages and relaxes muscles.

b) Therapeutic effects of chemical properties of water:

Bathing cure: Minerals which are dissolved in thermal and medicinal waters have a beneficial effect because they get absorbed easily through the dilated pores of the skin..

  • Absorption through the skin into the blood circulation and the lymphatic vessels. Increased secretion, regenerating and immunity-boosting effect. Diffusion helps the body to get rid of roughage. Metabolism depends on the temperature of water as well as on microclimate as well. (
  • Water can be beneficial for patients who suffer from diseases of the skin. (disinfecting and anti-inflammatory effect of iodic and salty waters).  
  • Inhaling ions from the air relieves stress and has a tranquilizing effect.  

A bathing cure is effective if the patient takes a series of at least 15 treatments, and each session lasts at least for a min. of 15 minutes, a length of time, which is then gradually increased to 45 minutes. (

Drinking cure: it may relieve different symptoms depending on the chemical composition of water. For further details see Point g) !

c) Therapeutic effects of medicinal waters:

The most frequently used applications of balneotherapy are as follows: (

  • Cronic arthritis
  • Arthritic sclerosis
  • Worn-out joints, spinal degenerations, rheumatism, gout
  • discitis,
  • osteoporosis
  • developmental and postural problems of the locomotor system
  • injuries and/or post-operative rehabilitation (e.g. orthopaedic surgery),
  • post-operative treatment following neurosurgery
  • gynaecological diseases (chronic ovaritis, infertility),
  • diseases of the upper respiratory system
  • certain diseases of the digestive and metabolic systems
  • certain diseases of the heart and of the circulatory system
  • pain in the nervous system
  • chronic skin diseases (psoriasis, papulas, surgical scars).

The therapeutic utilization of medicinal waters is dependent on their chemical composition.  (

  • Alcalic waters: gastric catarrh, excess gastric acid, tracheal catarrh.
  • Bromic-iodic waters: rheumatic complaints, gynaecological diseases, skin problems, diseases of the thyroid gland (drinking cure)
  • Calcic waters (calcium-, magnesium, hydrocarbonate content): Rheumatic, heart and gastric diseases
  • Sulphuric waters: rheumatic diseases, certain skin diseases.
  • Salty waters: rheumatism, diseases of the female reproductive organs, diseases of the mucous membrane.
  • Radon and sulphuric waters: pain relief, effect on the operation of endocrine glands and meatbolism.
  • Carbonated waters: Rheumatic diseases.
  • Sulfate waters (aperiant waters): as drinking cure: gastric and intestinal diseases, diseases of the liver, and gall bladder. Intestinal cleanser.  
  • Iron waters: drinking cure. Beneficiary for several organs. Anaemia. 

d) Bath reaction

When doing a bathing cure the patients’ complaints may rise and it is a natural reaction. This group of symptoms is called bath reaction and it usually appears after the 3rd - 5th treatment. It may occur earlier or later than that as well.  Usually there is an improvement within a few days but the condition may last into the second week of the treatment as well.  It is the specialist (balneologist) who should decide whether the condition is a simple bath reaction or something else. If there are other reasons in the background, complementary treatment may become necessary. (

General symptoms:

  • Indisposition, tiredness, fatigue, headache, irritability, loss of appetite, fast pulse, slightly high body temperature.  

Local symptoms:

  • Intensity of pain, swelling of joints

Medicinal waters containing radium or sulphur may provoke a more intense reaction than carbonated or iodic baths.

e) Counter indications of balneotherapy

In case of certain health conditions tha application of hot waters might be dangerous.

Counter indications for hot (thermal baths) are as follows:

  • Irregular heartbeat, fast pulse,
  • Severe heart coronary diseases,
  • Cardiac failure
  • Untreated of untreatable high blood pressure
  • Severe arteriosclerosis
  • Large size venous dilation
  • Untreated hyperthyreosis
  • Chronic nephritis
  • Tumorous diseases,
  • Scars and fresh wounds
  • Infectuous diseases,
  • Conditions with fever
  • menstruation
  • inflammatory phase of locomotor diseases
  • diseases with the likeliness of collapse
  • pregnancy.

It is also important to consider the sources of infection which might be extremely dangerous for the patients suffering from the above diseases.

f) General rules for medicinal bathing

The morning hours are the best for having a medicinal bath. The time is presribed by a doctor, its maximum can be about 40-45 minutes. (Hot water, but even water with a temperature lower than 36-38 °C may be heavy for the heart.). It is the best to avoid a full or an empty stomach. Alcohol consumption is not allowed. Bathing should be followed by a shower of lukewarm water, then patients are supoosed to relax. ( Massaging is to follow bathing. Pain or indisposition need to be reported to the doctor. General hygienic rules are also to be kept. (

When these rules are not kept and bathing is ’overdone’, it may lead to general tiredness, fatigue, weakness, and reduced performance.

g) Effects of medicinal drinking cures, their counter indications and the places of occurrence of waters in Hungary (

1. Alcalic medicinal water  (Containing Na-, K-, H-carbonates):

  • mucokinetic, antibilious and gastric acid reducing effect  
  • counter indication: nephrolithiasis and coli infection  
  • examples: Balf, Bükkszék (Salvus), Fonyód, Anna spring water from Szeged, Gyopárosfürdő, Gyula.

2. Calcic medicinal water (Containing Ca-, Mg-, H-carbonates)

  • anti-inflammatory effect, circulatory diseases (Carbonated waters), treatment of osteoporosis, gynecological diseases, with its diuretic effect it helps to get rid of kidney stones and sand.
  • Counter indication: constipation
  • Examples: Budapest, Balatonfüred, Kékkút, Moha (Ágnes), Bük.

3. Salty medicinal waters: (Containing Na- and choride ions)

  • They dissolve slowly in the stomach, and this is why they have an anti-inflammatory effect and they are beneficial for patients with rheumatic and gynacological diseases.
  • Counter indication: high blood pressure and oedema.
  • Examples: Sárvár, Pestszenterzsébet, Cserkeszőlő, Hajdúszoboszló, Eger, Gyopáros, Nyíregyháza, Tamási.

4. Saline purgative waters (Containing sulphate ions, Na-Glauber’s salt and Mg- Epsom salt))

  • After consumption gall bladder contracts more frequently and thus it reduces its stasis; cleanses the intestinal tract, dissolves mucous and removes bacteria and their decomposing parts.This water is beneficial for gastric and intestinal catarrh, problems of the gall bladder. It has a purgative effect. 
  • Counter indication:  gastric ulcer, gastric acid deficiency, vomiting, diarrhoea.
  • Examples: Alag, Tiszajenő, Jászkarajenő - Mira water, Buda (Hunyadi János water, Apenta, Ferenc József water), Nagyigmánd (Kisalföld).

5. Iron water

  • It has been in use for long to treat anaemia and gynacological diseases.
  • Counter indication: none
  • Examples: Csopak, Parádi Clarissa and Szent István, Moha (Stefánia) 

6. Iodic bromic water:

  • Used to prevent iodic deficiency disorders of the thyroid gland, treat high blood pressure, prevent osteoporosis, treat climacteric and menstruational disorders, inflammatory diseases of the prostate and of the gastrointestinal tract, to boost the gall bladder and pancreas functions and to reduce the level of urea and sugar in blood.
  • Examples: Sóshartyán (Jódaqua, Nógrád County), Pesterzsébet, Hajdúszoboszló, Debrecen, Karcag, Berekfürdő