Historical Medical Terms
Historical Medical Terms
This is a list of medical terms that might be found on
old death certificates, family records, even in obituaries
I am in the process of adding to this list, so check back
if you don't find what you are looking for.
Abscess: A localized collection of pus buried in tissues, organs, or confined spaces of the body, often accompanied by swelling and inflammation and frequently caused by bacteria
Acute Mania: Severe insanity
Addison's Disease: bronzed skin disease; characterized by severe weakness, low blood pressure, and a bronzed coloration of the skin
Ague: Malarial fever or intermittent fever. Chills, fever and sweating.
American plague: Yellow fever
Anasarca: Generalized massive edema
Aphtha: The infant disease "thrush"
Apoplexy: Stroke. Sudden loss of consciousness followed by paralysis due to a hemorrhage in the brain.
Asphycsia/Asphicsia: Cyanotic and lack of oxygen
Atrophy: Wasting away or diminishing in size.
Bad Blood: Syphilis
Bilous fever: Typhus, sometimes intestinal or malarial fever.
Biliousness: Jaundice associated with liver disease; may also have been any upset leading to vomiting bile or just vomiting
Black plague or death: Bubonic plague
Black fever: Acute infection with high temperature and dark red skin lesions and high mortality rate
Black pox: Black Small pox
Black tongue: Typhoid fever.
Black vomit: Vomiting old black blood due to ulcers or yellow fever
Blackwater fever: Dark urine associated with high temperature
Bladder in throat: Diphtheria
Blood poisoning: Septicemia.
Bloody flux: Dysentery.
Bloody sweat: Sweating sickness
Bone shave: Sciatica
Brain fever: Typhus or meningitis.
Breakbone: Dengue fever
Bright's disease: Chronic inflammatory disease of kidneys
Bronze John: Yellow fever
Bule: Boil, tumor or swelling
Cacogastric: Upset stomach
Cacospysy: Irregular pulse
Caduceus: Subject to falling sickness or epilepsy
Camp fever: Typhus.
Canine fever or Canine madness: Rabies, hydrophobia.
Canker: Ulceration of mouth or lips or herpes simplex
Catalepsy: Seizures / trances
Catarrh: Inflammation of a mucous membrane. Cough, thirst, fever.
Cerebritis: Inflammation of cerebrum or lead poisoning
Chilblain: Swelling of extremities caused by exposure to cold
Childbed fever: Puerperal fever, infection following the birth of a child.
Chin cough: Whooping cough
Chlorosis: Iron deficiency anemia
Cholera: Acute severe contagious diarrhea with intestinal lining sloughing
Cholera morbus: Characterized by nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps,elevated temperature, etc. Could be appendicitis
Cholecystitus: Inflammation of the gall bladder
Cholelithiasis: Gall stones
Chorea: Disease characterized by convulsions, contortions and dancing
Cold plague: Ague which is characterized by chills
Colic: An abdominal pain and cramping
Congestive chills: Malaria
Congestion: Any collection of fluid in an organ, like the lungs
Congestive fever: Malaria
Consumption: Tuberculosis. A wasting away of the body.
Coryza: A cold
Cramp colic: Appendicitis
Crop sickness: Overextended stomach
Croup: Laryngitis, diphtheria, or strep throat
Cyanosis: Dark skin color from lack of oxygen in blood
Cynanche: Diseases of throat
Cystitis: Inflammation of the bladder
Day fever: Fever lasting one day; sweating sickness
Debility: Lack of movement or staying in bed
Decrepitude: Feebleness due to old age
Delirium tremens: Hallucinations due to alcoholism
Dengue: Infectious fever endemic to East Africa
Dentition: Cutting of teeth
Deplumation: Tumor of the eyelids which causes hair loss
Diary fever: A fever that lasts one day
Diptheria: Contagious disease of the throat
Distemper: Usually animal disease with malaise, discharge from nose and throat, anorexia
Dock fever: Yellow fever
Dropsy: Edema, holding fluids in abnormally large amounts, often caused by kidney or heart disease
Dropsy of the Brain: Encephalitis
Dry Bellyache: Lead poisoning
Dyscrasy: An abnormal body condition
Dysentery: Severe diarrhea, inflammation of colon with frequent passage of mucous and blood
Dysorexy: Reduced appetite
Dyspepsia: Indigestion and heartburn. Heart attack symptoms
Dysury: Difficulty in urination
Eclampsy: Symptoms of epilepsy, convulsions during labor
Ecstasy: A form of catalepsy characterized by loss of reason
Edema: Nephrosis; swelling of tissues
Edema of lungs: Congestive heart failure, a form of dropsy
Eel thing: Erysipelas
Elephantiasis: A form of leprosy
Encephalitis: Swelling of brain; aka sleeping sickness
Enteric fever: Typhoid fever.
Enterocolitis: Inflammation of the intestines
Enteritis: Inflations of the bowels
Epitaxis: Nose bleed
Erysipelas: Contagious skin disease, due to Streptococci with vesicular and bulbous lesions
Extravasted blood: Rupture of a blood vessel
Falling sickness: Epilepsy
Fatty Liver: Cirrhosis of liver
Fits: Sudden attack or seizure of muscle activity
Flux: An excessive flow or discharge of fluid like hemorrhage or diarrhea, dysentery.
Flux of humour: Circulation
French pox: Venereal disease, usually refers to syphilis.
Furuncle: Boil or abscess.
Gathering: A collection of pus
Glandular fever: Mononucleosis
Gleet: See Catarrh.
Gravel: Kidney stones.
Great pox: Syphilis
Green fever / sickness: Anemia
Grippe/grip: Influenza like symptoms
Grocer's itch: Skin disease caused by mites in sugar or flour
Heart sickness: Condition caused by loss of salt from body
Heat stroke: Body temperature elevates because of surrounding environment temperature and body does not perspire to reduce temperature. Coma and death result if not reversed
Hectical complaint: Recurrent fever
Hematemesis: Vomiting blood
Hematuria: Bloody urine
Hemiplegy: Paralysis of one side of body
Hip gout: Osteomylitis
Horrors: Delirium tremens
Hospital fever: Typhus.
Hydrocephalus: Enlarged head, water on the brain
Hydropericardium: Heart dropsy
Hydrophobia: Fear of water caused by the bite of a rabid animal. Rabies.
Hydrothroax: Dropsy in chest
Hypertrophic: Enlargement of organ, like the heart
Impetigo: Contagious skin disease characterized by pustules
Inanition: Physical condition resulting from lack of food
Infantile paralysis: Polio
Intestinal colic: Abdominal pain due to improper diet
Jail fever: Typhus.
Jaundice: Condition caused by blockage of intestines
King's evil: Tuberculosis of neck and lymph glands
Kruchhusten: Whooping cough
Lockjaw: Tetanus or infectious disease affecting the muscles of the neck and jaw. Untreated, it is fatal in 8 days
Long sickness: Tuberculosis
Lues disease: Syphilis
Lues venera: Venereal disease
Lumbago: Back pain
Lung fever: Pneumonia
Lung sickness: Tuberculosis
Lying in: Time of delivery of infant
Malignant fever: Typhus.
Marasmus: Progressive wasting away of body, like malnutrition
Membranous Croup: Diphtheria
Meningitis: Inflations of brain or spinal cord
Metritis: Inflammation of uterus or purulent vaginal discharge
Miasma: Poisonous vapors thought to infect the air
Milk fever: Disease from drinking contaminated milk, like undulant fever or brucellosis
Milk leg: Post partum thrombophlebitis
Milk sickness: Disease in cows transmitted to infants. Chills, vomiting, trembling, gastrointestinal disorders.
Morphew: Scurvy blisters on the body
Mortification: Gangrene of necrotic tissue
Myelitis: Inflammation of the spine
Myocarditis: Inflammation of heart muscles
Necrosis: Mortification of bones or tissue
Nephrosis: Kidney degeneration
Nepritis: Inflammation of kidneys
Nervous prostration: Extreme exhaustion from inability to control physical and mental activities
Neuralgia: Described as discomfort, such as "Headache" was neuralgia in head
Palsy: Paralysis or uncontrolled movement of controlled muscles. It was listed as "Cause of death"
Pemphigus: Skin disease of watery blisters
Pericarditis: Inflammation of heart
Peripneumonia: Inflammation of lungs
Peritonotis: Inflammation of abdominal area
Petechial Fever: Fever characterized by skin spotting
Phthiriasis: Lice infestation
Phthisis: Chronic wasting away or a name for tuberculosis
Plague: An acute febrile highly infectious disease with a high fatality rate
Pleurisy: Inflammation of the membranes lining the chest cavity. Chills, fever, dry cough, pain in the affected side.
Poliomyelitis: Polio Potter's asthma - Fibroid pthisis
Pott's disease: Tuberculosis of spine
Puerperal exhaustion: Death due to childbirth
Puerperal fever: Septicemia following childbirth.
Puking fever: Milk sickness
Putrid fever: Diphtheria or Typhus
Remitting fever: Malaria
Rheumatism: Any disorder associated with pain in joints
Rickets: Disease of skeletal system, Vitamin D deficiency
Rose cold: Hay fever or nasal symptoms of an allergy
Rotanny fever: Child's disease
Rubella: German measles
Sanguineous crust: Scab
Scarlatina: Scarlet fever
Scarlet fever: A disease characterized by red rash
Scarlet rash: Roseola
Sciatica: Rheumatism in the hips
Scirrhus: Cancerous tumors
Scotomy: Dizziness, nausea and dimness of sight
Scrivener's palsy: Writer's cramp
Scrofula: Tuberculosis of neck lymph glands. Progresses slowly with abscesses and pistulas develop. Young person's disease
Scrumpox: Skin disease, impetigo
Scurvy: Lack of vitamin C. Symptoms of weakness, spongy gums and hemorrhages under skin
Septicemia: Blood poisoning
Shakes: Delirium tremens
Shaking: Chills, ague
Shingles: Viral disease with skin blisters
Ship fever: Typhus
Siriasis: Inflammation of the brain due to sun exposure
Sloes: Milk sickness
Small pox: Contagious disease with fever and blisters
Softening of brain: Result of stroke or hemorrhage in the brain, with an end result of the tissue softening in that area
Sore throat distemper: Diphtheria or quinsy
Spanish influenza: Epidemic influenza
Spasms: Sudden involuntary contraction of muscle or group of muscles,like a convulsion
Spina bifida: Deformity of spine
Spotted fever: Typhus or Meningitis
Sprue: Tropical disease characterized by intestinal disorders and sore throat
St. Anthony's fire: Also erysipelas, but named so because of affected skin areas are bright red in appearance
St. Vitas dance: Ceaseless occurrence of rapid complex jerking movements performed involuntary
Stomatitis: Inflammation of the mouth
Stranger's fever: Yellow fever
Sudor anglicus: Sweating sickness
Summer complaint: Diarrhea, usually in infants caused by spoiled milk
Sunstroke: Uncontrolled elevation of body temperature due to environment heat. Lack of sodium in the body is a predisposing cause
Swamp sickness: Could be malaria, typhoid or encephalitis
Sweating sickness: Infectious and fatal disease common to UK in 15th century
Tetanus: Infectious fever characterized by high fever, headache and dizziness
Thrombosis: Blood clot inside blood vessel
Thrush: Childhood disease characterized by spots on mouth, lips and throat
Tick fever: Rocky mountain spotted fever
Toxemia of pregnancy: Eclampsia
Trench mouth: Painful ulcers found along gum line, Caused by poor nutrition and poor hygiene
Tussis convulsiva: Whooping cough
Typhus: Infectious fever characterized high fever, headache, and dizziness
Viper's dance: St. Vitus Dance
Water on brain: Enlarged head, hydrocephalic
White swelling: Tuberculosis of the bone
Winter fever: Pneumonia
Womb fever: Infection of the uterus
Worm fit: Convulsions associated with teething, worms, elevated temperature or diarrhea
Yellowjacket: Yellow fever