A GLOSSARY OF OLD MEDICAL TERMS
Abscess: A localized collection of pus buried in tissues, organs, or
spaces of the body, often accompanied by swelling andinflammation and
frequently caused by bacteria. See boil.
Addison's disease: A disease characterized by severe weakness, low blood pressure,
and a bronzed coloration of the skin, due to decreased secretion of cortisol from the
adrenal gland. Synonyms: Morbus addisonii, bronzedskin disease.
Ague: Malarial or intermittent fever characterized by paroxysms
chills, fever, and sweating
at regularly recurring times) and followed byan interval or intermission of varying duration. Popularly,
the disease was known as "fever and ague," "chill fever," "the shakes," and by names expressive of the
locality in which it was prevalent--such as, "swamp fever" (in Louisiana), "Panama fever," and "Chagres fever."
Ague-cake: A form of enlargement of the spleen, resulting from the actionof malaria on the system.
American Plague: yellow fever
Anasarca: Generalized massive dropsy. See dropsy.
Apoplexy: paralysis due to stroke
Aphthae: See thrush.
Aphthous stomatitis: See canker.
Ascites: See dropsy.
Asthenia: See debility.
Bad Blood: Syphilis
Bilious fever: A term loosely applied to certain intestinal and malarial fevers. See typhus.
Biliousness: A complex of symptoms comprising nausea, abdominal discomfort,headache, and constipation--formerly attributed to excessive secretion of bile from the liver.
Blood Poisoning: Septicemia
Boil: An abscess of skin or painful inflammation of the skin or
follicle usually caused by a staphylococcal infection. Synonym: furuncle.
Brain fever: See meningitis, typhus.
Bright's Disease: Glomerulonephritis (kidney inflammation)
Bronchial asthma: A disorder of breathing, characterized by
spasm of the
bronchial tubes of the lungs, wheezing, and difficulty in breathing air
outward--often accompanied by coughing and a feeling of tightness in the chest.
Camp fever: See typhus.
Cancer: A malignant and invasive growth or tumor. In the
century, cancerous tumors tended to ulcerate, grew constantly, and
progressed to a fatal end and that there was scarcely a tissue they would
not invade. Synonyms: malignant growth, carcinoma.
Cancrum oris: A severe, destructive, eroding ulcer of the cheek
and lip. In
he last century it was seen in delicate, ill-fed, ill-tended children
between the ages of two and five. The disease was the result of poor
hygiene. It was often fatal. The disease could, in a few days, lead to
gangrene of the lips, cheeks, tonsils, palate, tongue, and even half the
face; teeth would fall from their sockets. Synonyms: canker, water canker,
noma, gangrenous stomatitis, gangrenous ulceration of the mouth.
Canker: An ulcerous sore of the mouth and lips, not considered
Synonym: aphthous stomatitis. See cancrum otis.
Catarrh: Inflammation of a mucous membrane, especially of the air
of the head and throat, with a free discharge. Bronchial catarrh was
bronchitis; suffocative catarrh was croup; urethral catarrh was gleet;
vaginal catarrh was leukorrhea; epidemic catarrh was the same as influenza.
Synonyms: cold, coryza.
Chlorosis: iron deficiency anemia
Cholera: An acute, infectious disease characterized by profuse
vomiting, and cramps. Cholera is spread by feces-contaminated water and
food. Major epidemics struck the United States in the years 1832, 1849, and
Cholera infantum: A common, noncontagious diarrhea of young
in summer or autumn. It was common among the poor and in hand-fedbabies. Death
frequently occurred in three to five days. Synonyms: summercomplaint, weaning brash,
water gripes, choleric fever of children, choleramorbus.
Chorea: Any of several diseases of the nervous system,
jerky movements that appear to be well coordinated but are performed
involuntarily, chiefly of the face and extremities. Synonym: Saint Vitus'dance.
Colic: Paroxysmal pain in the abdomen or bowels. Infantile
colic is benign
paroxysmal abdominal pain during the first three months of life. Colic
rarely caused death. Renal colic can occur from disease in the kidney,
gallstone colic from a stone in the bile duct.
Congestion: An excessive or abnormal accumulation of blood or
in a body part or blood vessel. In congestive fever the internal organs
become gorged with blood.
Congestive Fever: malaria
Consumption: A wasting away of the body; formerly applied
pulmonary tuberculosis. Synonyms: marasmus (in the mid-nineteenth century),phthisis.
Convulsions: Severe contortion of the body caused by violent,
muscular contractions of the extremities, trunk, and head. See epilepsy.
Coryza: See catarrh.
Croup. Any obstructive condition of the larynx (voice box) or
(windpipe), characterized by a hoarse, barking cough and difficult
breathing occurring chiefly in infants and children. In theearly-
nineteenth century it was called cynanche trachealis. The crouping
noise was similar to the sound emitted by a chicken affected with the pip,
which in some parts of Scotland was called roup; hence, probably, the term
croup. Synonyms: roup, hives, choak, stuffing, rising of the lights.
Debility: Abnormal bodily weakness or feebleness; decay of
was a term descriptive of a patient's condition and of no help in making a
diagnosis. Synonym: asthenia.
Diphtheria: An acute infectious disease acquired by contact
infected person or a carrier of the disease. It was usually confined to the
upper respiratory tract (throat) and characterized by the formation of a
tough membrane (false membrane) attached firmly to the underlying tissue
that would bleed if forcibly removed. In the nineteenth century the disease
was occasionally confused with scarlet fever and croup.
Dropsy: A contraction for hydropsy. The presence of
amounts of fluid. Congestive heart failure
Dysentery: A term given to a number of disorders marked by
the intestines (especially of the colon). There are two specific varieties:
(1) amebic dysentery (2) bacillary dysentery. Synonyms: flux, bloody flux,
contagious pyrexia (fever), frequent griping stools.
Eclampsia: A form of toxemia (toxins--or poisons--in the blood)
accompanying pregnancy. See dropsy.
Effluvia: Exhalations. In the mid-nineteenth century, they were
"vapours" and distinguished into the contagious effluvia, such as rubeolar
measles); marsh effluvia, such as miasmata.
Emphysema, pulmonary: A chronic, irreversible disease of the lungs.
Enteric fever: See typhoid fever.
Epilepsy: A disorder of the nervous system, characterized
either by mild,
episodic loss of attention or sleepiness (petittnal) or by severeconvulsions
with loss of consciousness (grand mal). Synonyms: falling sickness, fits.
Erysipelas: An disease. Synonyms: Rose, Saint Anthony's Fire
burning heat or, perhaps, because Saint Anthony was supposed to cure it miraculously).
Fatty Liver: Cirrhosis
Flux: See dysentery.
Furuncle: See boil.
Gangrene: Death and decay of tissue in a part of the
due to injury, disease, or failure of blood supply. Synonym: mortification.
Glandular Fever: Mononucleosis
Gleet: See catarrh.
Gravel: A disease characterized by small stones which are
formed in the kidneys,
passed along the ureters to the bladder, and expelled with the urine. Synonym:
Grippe: an old term for influenza
Hectic fever: A daily recurring fever with profound sweating,
flushed appearance-- often associated with pulmonary tuberculosis or septic
Hives: A skin eruption of smooth, slightly elevated areas on
the skin which
is redder or paler than the surrounding skin. Often attended by severe
itching. Also called cynanche trachealis. In the mid-nineteenth century,
hives was a commonly given cause of death of children three years and
under. Because true hives does not kill, croup was probably the actual
cause of death in those children.
Hospital fever: See typhus.
Hydrocephalus: See dropsy.
Hydrothorax: See dropsy.
Icterus: See jaundice.
Inanition: Exhaustion from lack of nourishment; starvation.
Infection: In the early part of the last century, infections
to be the propagation of disease by effluvia (see above) from patients
crowded together. "Miasms" were believed to be substances which could not
be seen in any form--emanations not apparent to the senses. Such miasms
were understood to act by infection.
Inflammation: Redness, swelling, pain, tenderness, heat, and
function of an area of the body. In the last century, cause of death often
was listed as inflammation of a body organ--such as, brain or lung--but
this was purely a descriptive term and is not helpful in identifying the
actual underlying disease.
Jail fever: See typhus.
Jaundice: Yellow discoloration of the skin, whites of the eyes,
membranes, due to an increase of bile pigments in the blood. Synonym:
Kidney stone: See gravel.
Kings evil: A popular name for scrofula. The name originated in
the time of
Edward the Confessor, with the belief that the disease could be cured by
the touch of the king of England.
Lockjaw: Tetanus, a disease in which the jaws become firmly locked
together. Synonyms: trismus, tetanus.
Lung Fever: pneumonia
Lung Sickness: Tuberculosis
Malignant fever: See typhus.
Marasmus: Malnutrition occurring in infants and young children,
in insufficient intake of calories or protein.
Meningitis: Inflammation of the meninges characterized by high
severe headache, and stiff neck or back muscles. Synonym: brain fever.
Milk Sick: poisoning resulting from the drinking of milk
produced by a cow
who had eaten a plant known as white snake root
Neuralgia: Sharp and paroxysmal pain along the course of a sensory nerve.
Paristhmitis: See quinsy.
Petechial fever: See typhus.
Phthisis: See consumption.
Plague/Black Death: Bubonic Plague
Pleurisy: Inflammation of the pleura, the lining of the chest
Symptoms are chills, fever, dry cough, and pain in the affected side (a stitch).
Pneumonia: Inflammation of the lungs
Potts Disease: Tuberculosis of the spinal vertebrae
Putrid fever. See typhus.
Putrid sore throat: Ulceration of an acute form, attacking the tonsils
Pyrexia: See dysentery.
Quinsy: An acute inflammation of the tonsils, often leading to an abscess. throat
Scarlatina: Scarlet fever. A contagious disease.
Scrofula: Primary tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands,
Septic: Infected, a condition of local or generalized invasion
of the body
by disease-causing germs.
Ship fever: See typhus.
Softening Of The Brain: cerebral hemorrhage/stroke
Spotted fever: See typhus.
Summer complaint: See cholera infantum.
Suppuration: The production of pus.
Teething: The entire process which results in the eruption of
nineteenth-century medical reports stated that infants were more prone to
disease at the time of teething. Symptoms were restlessness, fretfulness,
convulsions, diarrhea, and painful and swollen gums. The latter could be
relieved by lancing over the protruding tooth. Often teething was reported
as a cause of death in infants. Perhaps they became susceptible to
infections, especially if lancing was performed without antisepsis. Another
explanation of teething as a cause of death is that infants were often
weaned at the time of teething; perhaps they then died from drinking
contaminated milk, leading to an infection, or from malnutrition if
watered-down milk was given.
Tetanus: An infectious, often-fatal disease caused by a
that enters the body through wounds. Synonyms: trismus, lockjaw.
Thrush: A disease characterized by whitish spots and ulcers on
membranes of the mouth, tongue, and fauces caused by a parasitic fungus.
Synonyms: aphthae, sore mouth, aphthous stomatitis.
Trismus nascentium or neonatorum: A form of tetanus seen only
almost invariably in the first five days of life.
Typhoid fever: An infectious, often-fatal disease, usually
occurring in the
summer months -- characterized by intestinal inflammation and ulceration. The
name came from the disease's similarity to typhus (see below). Synonym:
Typhus: An acute, infectious disease transmitted by lice and
epidemic or classic form is louse borne; the endemic or murine is flea
borne. Synonyms: typhus fever, malignant fever (in the 1850s), jail fever,
hospital fever, ship fever, putrid fever, brain fever, bilious fever,
spotted fever, petechial fever, camp fever.
Winter Fever: pneumonia
Yellow fever: An acute, often-fatal, infectious
disease of warm
climates--caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes
(For the History of medicine see http://www.scry.com/ayer/hist_med/title00.htm