Old Medical Terms

A collection of old medical terms that were used on many documents, including death certificates.  Many entries have been submitted by LCGS members and definitions verified using:  A To Zak, A Comprehensive Dictionary for Genealogists & Historians, Third Edition, 1995, by Barbara Jean Evans and Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, Edition 14 Illustrated, 1981, Edited by Clayton L. Thomas, M.D., M.P.H. To download a copy of these terms click here.
 
Ablepsy
 
Blindness
Addison's Disease   Severe weakness, low blood pressure
Ague
 
Malarial Fever
Air-Swellings   Tympanites; air or gas in the intestines
Albuminuria   see Bright's Disease of the Kidneys.
American plague
 
Yellow Fever
Anasarca
 
Generalized massive edema. Also see Dropsy.
Anchylosis   Stiff joints
Anidrosis   Too little perspiration
Anthrax   A carbuncle or boil which is larger and more painful than a normal boil.
Aphonia
 
Laryngitis
Apoplexy
 
Paralysis due to stroke
Appendicitis   see Cholera Morbus
Arachnitis   Inflammation of the arachnoid and pia mater which are membranes located in the brain.
Ascites   Dropsy of the belly; a collection of water in the stomach.
Asthenia   Decay of strength, feebleness.
Asphyesia or Asphicsia   Cyanotic and lack of oxygen.
Atrophy
 
Wasting away or diminishing in size
     
     
Bad Blood
 
Syphilis
Barber's Itch   Ring-worm of the beard.
Bibious Colic   Tortuous pain in the belly.
Bilious fever
 
Typhoid, malaria, hepatitis or elevated temperature and bile emesis.
Biliousness
 
Jaundice associated with liver disease
Black fever
 
Acute infection with high temperature and dark red skin lesions.
Black plague or death
 
Bubonic plague
Black pox
 
Black small pox
Black vomit
 
Vomiting old black blood due to ulcers or yellow fever
Blackwater fever
 
Dark urine associated with high temperature
Blood poisoning
 
Bacterial infection; septicemia
Bloody flux
 
Bloody stools
Bloody sweats
 
Sweating sickness
Blue Disease   A blue tinge over the entire body; commonly known as Cyanosis; body warmth is reduced, causing severe complications in ability to breathe, usually results in death.
Boanthropy   A rare form of insanity described in the 19th century, in which a man imagined himself to be the manifestation of an ox.
Bone shave
 
Sciatica
Brain fever
 
Meningitis
Breakbone
 
Dengue fever
Bright’s Disease of the Kidneys
 
Chronic inflammatory disease of kidneys
Bronchorrhea   A bronchial flu; known today as pneumonia.
Bronze John
 
Yellow fever
Brown Tail Rash   An irritating, itching rash on the skin caused by small shed hairs of the gypsy moth (or it caterpillar) carried by the wind and lodging in the pores of human skin.
     
     
Cachexy
 
Malnutrition
Caduceus
 
Subject to falling sickness or epilepsy
Calenture   Related to Yellow Fever, a disease that caused severe high fever and blood-filled vomiting.
Camp fever
 
Typhus
Canine Madness
 
Rabies
Canker
 
Ulceration of mouth or lips or herpes simplex
Catarrhal   Associated with the common cold. Inflammation of the mucous membranes; runny nose; sinusitis.
Cerebritis   Lead poisoning
Chilbains   A painful sore or swelling on the foot or hand caused by exposure to severe cold conditions.
Child-Bed Fever   Puerpetual fever; septicemia; blood poisoning during pregnancy.
Chin Cough
 
Whooping cough
Chlorosis   Iron deficiency anemia, see Green Sickness.
Cholera
 
Acute severe contagious diarrhea with intestinal lining sloughing
Cholera Infantum   Non contagious diarrhea of children, prevalent during hot weather; also known as summer complaint. Often caused by poorly kept meat and dairy foods.
Cholera Morbus   Nausea, abdominal cramps; often Appendicitis.
Clap   Gonorrhea.
Colic   Any type of abdominal pain or cramping.
Colitis   See Bloody-Flux or Dysentery.
Congestion   Ay collection of fluid in an organ, like your lungs.
Congestive chills
 
Malaria
Consumption
 
Wasting away of body, usually from Tuberculosis
Convulsions   Involuntary violent muscel contrations, probably epilepsy
Coryza
 
A cold
Costiveness
 
Constipation
Cramp colic
 
Appendicitis
Crop sickness
 
Overextended stomach
Croup   Obstruction of trachea or larynx leading to a bark-like cough
Crusted Tetter   Impetigo.
Cyanosis   Dark skin color associated with lack of oxygen in blood. Also known as Blue Disease.
Cystitis   Inflammation of the bladder
     
     
Debility   Decay of strength of the body
Decrepitude
 
Feebleness due to old age
Delirum Tremens   Hallucination due to alcoholism, also known as the "DT's"
Dentition   Cutting of teeth
Deplumation
 
Tumor of the eyelids which causes hair loss
Devonshire Colic:    See Painter's Colic.
Diary fever
 
A fever that lasts one day
Diphtheria
 
Contagious disease of the throat
Distemper, Throat   Diphtheria or Scarlet Fever. Symptoms included malaise, discharge from nose and throat, anorexia.
Dropsy   Abnormally large amounts of fluid in tissue or body cavities
Dropsy of Brain   Encephalitis
Dry Bellyache
 
Lead poisoning. See Painter's Colic.
Dysentery   Inflammation of the intestines with abdominal pain
Dyspepsia   Indigestion and heatburn, often symptoms of a heart attack
     
     
Edema of Lungs   Congestive heart failure
Eel thing
 
Erysipelas
Egyptian Chlorosis   Hookworm.
Elephantiasis
 
A form of leprosy
Enterocolitis   Inflammation of the intestines
Epidemic   The rapid spread of any contagious disease among many people.
Erysipelas   An infectious bacterial disease, causing bright red rash or inflammation of the skin
     
     
Falling sickness
 
Epilepsy
False Measles   See Rose Rash.
Fatty liver
 
Cirrhosis of liver
Fits   Sudden seizures of muscles
Flatulent Colic   See Wind Colic.
Flux   Any type of intestinal disorder, such as diarrhea or dysentery, characterized by an excessive flow or discharge of fluid, like hemorrhage.
Fotadl   Foot disease or gout.
French pox
 
Syphilis
     
     
Great pox
 
Syphilis
Green fever
 
Anemia
Green Sickness   Also known as Chlorosis; a green tinge to the skin of a young girl going through the puberty stage.
Grocer’s itch
 
Skin disease caused by mites in sugar or flour
Grippe or Grip   Influenza
     
     
Heart sickness
 
Condition caused by loss of salt from body
Heat Stroke   Body temperature elevates because of surrounding environmental temperature. Body does not perspire to reduce the temperature. Coma and death soon occur if conditions are not reversed.
Hip gout
 
Osteomylitis
Horrors
 
Delirium tremens
Hydrothorax
 
Dropsy in chest
Hydrocephalus   Also known as Water on the Brain, enlarged head.
Hydrophobia   Rabies.
Hypertropy of Heart   Enlarged heart.
     
     
Idrosis   Greatly increased perspiration.
Inanition   Starvation
Indican in the Urine   Poisonous material being thrown back into the system.
Infantile Debility   See Marasmus.
Infantile Spinal Paralysis
 
Polio
Interalgia   See Wind Colic.
     
     
Jail fever
 
Typhus
     
     
King’s Evil
 
Scrofula, or swelling of the neck glands; Tuberculosis of neck and lymph glands
Kruchhusten
 
Whooping cough
     
     
Lagrippe
 
Influenza
Lead Palsy   A sequel to Painter's Colic; muscles of the forearm are palsied from lead in the body also known in contemporary terms as "lead poisoning".
Lockjaw   Tetanus or infectious disease affecting the muscles of the neck and jaw. If untreated, the condition is fatal within 8 days.
Long Sickness
 
Tuberculosis
Lues Disease
 
Syphilis
Lues Venera
 
Venereal disease
Lumbago   Rheumatic pain in the back.
Lung fever
 
Pneumonia
Lung sickness
 
Tuberculosis
Lying In   Time of the delivery of an infant.
     
     
Malignant sore throat
 
Diphtheria
Mania
 
Insanity
Marasmus
 
Progressive wasting away of body, usually in young children.
Membranous croup
 
Diphtheria
Metritis   Inflammation of uterus or purulent vaginal discharge.
Miasma
 
Poisonous vapors thoughts to infect the air
Milk Crust   Small red, itchy pimples on the face or scalp of infants or children which eventually burst and exclude a sticky fluid forming a yellow crust.
Milk Fever
 
Disease from drinking contaminated milk.
Milk Leg   Phlebitis or inflammation in the leg beginning two to seven weeks after giving birth.
Milk Sickness
 
Disease from milk of cattle which had eaten poisonous weeds. Also known as the Trembles, a disease contracted by eating a plant which grows in level, heavily-timbered, wet oak-land (mainly in the Western States), or by eating meat wherein the animal has graved upon such plants.
Mormal
 
Gangrene
Morphew
 
Scurvy blisters on the body
Mortification
 
Gangrene of necrotic tissue
Mother's Marks   Dilation of minute blood-vessels, varying in size, the smaller being the "spider mark"
Myelitis
 
Inflammation of the spine
Myocarditis
 
Inflammation of the heart muscles
     
     
Necrosis
 
Mortification of bones or tissue
Nephosis
 
Kidney degeneration
Nephritis
 
Inflammation of the kidneys
Nervous prostration
 
Extreme exhaustion from the inability to control physical and mental activities
Neuralgia
 
Described as discomfort, such as "headache" was neuralgia in the head
Nostalgia
 
Homesickness
     
     
Osmidrossis   Perspiration with a peculiar sell.
     
     
Palsy
 
Paralysis or uncontrolled movement of controlled muscle - often used as a cause of death
Paristhmitis   Acute inflammation of the tonsils
Paroxysm
 
Convulsion
Pellagra   A disease caused by eating spoiled maize (corn) but could also include any type of food. Symptoms would include vomiting, diarrhea, followed by a swollen and sore tongue, and a red, ulcerated mouth, rashes throughout the body and body sores.
Pemphigus
 
Skin disease of watery blisters
Pericarditis
 
Inflammation of the heart
Peripneumonia
 
Inflammation of the lungs.
Peritonitis
 
Inflammation of abdominal area
Pessary   A device worn in the vagina for birth control or to give support to a displaced uterus.
Petechial fever
 
Fever characterized by skin spotting
Phisic   Medicine
Phlebitis   Tenderness or hardness of an infected vein; treatment with leeches and lotion.
Phitiriasis
 
Lice infiltration
Phthisis
 
Chronic wasting away or a name for tuberculosis
Piles   Hemorrhoids.
Plague
 
An acute febrile highly infectious disease with a high fatality rate
Pleurisy
 
Any pain in the chest area with each breath
Podagra
 
Gout
Poliomyelitis
 
Polio
Potter's asthma
 
Fibroid phthisis
Pott’s disease   Tuberculosis of spine
Pox   Syphilis.
Puerperal fever
 
Elevated temperature after giving birth to an infant
Puerperal exhaustion
 
Death due to childbirth
Phthiriasis
 
Lice infection
Podagra
 
Gout
Purple Disease   Pupura hemorrhagic; a rash of spots on the body (like freckles but different color), small, round, and bright red, which changes to a purple color or dark-red spots in irregular livid patches.
Putrid Fever   See Typhus Fever.
Pyemia   A form of blood poisoning from pus in the blood carried to various parts of the body.
     
     
Quinsy
 
Tonsillitis
     
     
Remitting fever
 
Malaria
Rheumatism   Any disorder associated with pain in joints.
Rickets
 
Disease of skeletal system
Rose cold
 
Hay fever
Rose Rash   "false measles" or roseola.
     
     
Saint Vitus's Dance   Chorea; nervous disorder that creates involuntary muscular contradictions.
Scarlatina   Scarlet fever.
Scarlet Fever   Disease marked by bright red rash, high fever, and sore throat. Highly contagious.
Sciatica   Painful condition in the hip(s) or thigh(s).
Scirrhus
 
Cancerous tumors
Scotomy
 
Dizziness, nausea and dimness of sight
Scrivener’s palsy
 
Writer’s cramp
Screws
 
Rheumatism
Scrofula   Tuberculosis of neck lymph glands. Progresses slowly with abscesses and fistula developing. Usually associated with younger people. See King's Evil.
Scrumpox
 
Skin disease, impetigo
Scurvy   Lack of Vitamin C. Symptoms of weakness, spongy gums and hemorrhages under the skin.
Ship fever
 
Typhus
Sloes
 
Milk sickness
Softening of Brain   Caused by stroke or brain hemorrhage.
Sore Throat Distemper   Diphtheria or quinsy.
Spasms   Sudden involuntary contraction of muscle or group of muscles, like a convulsion.
Spotted Fever
 
Either typhus or meningitis
Sprue
 
Tropical disease characterized by intestinal disorder and sore throat
St. Anthony’s Fire
 
Erysipelas; infectious disease with inflammation of the skin and fever.
St. Vitas Dance
 
Ceaseless occurrence of rapid complex involuntary jerking movements performed involuntarily.
Stomatitis
 
Inflammation of the mouth.
Stranger’s fever
 
Yellow fever
Swamp sickness
 
Could be malaria, typhoid or encephalitis
Sweating sickness
 
Infectious and fatal disease common to the United Kingdom in the 15th century
Summer Complaint of Infants    Diarrhea, usually caused by spoiled milk.
Sunstroke   Uncontrolled elevation of body temperature due to environmental heat. Lack of sodium in body a predisposing cause.
     
     
Thrush
 
Childhood disease characterized by spots on mouth, lips and throat
Tick Fever   Another name for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Trench Mouth
 
Painful ulcers found along gum line; caused by poor nutrition and hygiene
Typhoid Fever   Also known as Putrid Fever or Ship Fever; contagious disease transmitted to man by the bite of fleas, lice, etc.
     
     
Uremia   Blood in the urine.
     
     
Variola
 
Smallpox
Viper’s Dance
 
St. Vitus Dance
     
     
Water-Brash   Pyrosis; similar to heartburn; belching of a thin, watery fluid.
White swelling
 
Tuberculosis of the bone.
Winter Fever
 
Pneumonia
Womb Fever   Infection of the uterus.
Wool Starter's Disease   See Anthrax.
Worm Fever   Convulsions associated with teething, worms.
     
     
Yellow Jack or Yellow Fever
 
Yellow fever, also known as Bronze John. Infectious tropical disease transmitted by a yellow fever mosquito.
 
 
Updated: 16 May 2020.
 
Have some other Old Medical Terms to add? Please send them to genhelp@lcgsfl.org.