Glossary of Diseases

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Glossary of Diseases and Their Modern Day Meanings[edit | edit source]


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. 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, bronzed

skin disease.

Ague: Malarial or intermittent fever characterized by paroxysms (stages of

chills, fever, and sweating at regularly recurring times) and followed by

an 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 action

of 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 a hair

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


Camp fever: See typhus.

Cancer: A malignant and invasive growth or tumor. In the nineteenth

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 otis: A severe, destructive, eroding ulcer of the cheek and lip.

In the 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 fatal

today. Synonym: aphthous stomatitis. See cancrum otis.

Catalepsy: seizures/trances

Catarrh: Inflammation of a mucous membrane, especially of the air

passages 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 diarrhea,

vomiting, and cramps. Cholera is spread by feces-contaminated water and

food. Major epidemics struck the United States in the years 1832, 1849,

and 1866. .

Cholera infantum: A common, noncontagious diarrhea of young children,

occurring in summer or autumn. It was common among the poor and in

hand-fed babies. Death frequently occurred in three to five days.

Synonyms: summer complaint, weaning brash, water gripes, choleric fever of

children, cholera morbus.

Chorea: Any of several diseases of the nervous system, characterized by

jerky movements that appear to be well coordinated but are performed

involuntarily, chiefly of the face and extremities. Synonym: Saint Vitus'


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 other fluid

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 especially to

pulmonary tuberculosis. Synonyms: marasmus (in the mid-nineteenth

century), phthisis.

Convulsions: Severe contortion of the body caused by violent, involuntary

muscular contractions of the extremities, trunk, and head. See epilepsy.

Coryza: See catarrh.

Croup. Any obstructive condition of the larynx (voice box) or trachea

(windpipe), characterized by a hoarse, barking cough and difficult

breathing occurring chiefly in infants and children. In the

early-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 strength. This

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 with an

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 abnormally large

amounts of fluid. Congestive heart failure

Dysentery: A term given to a number of disorders marked by inflammation of

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 called

"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 severe

convulsions with loss of consciousness (grand mal). Synonyms: falling

sickness, fits.

Erysipelas: An disease. Synonyms: Rose, Saint Anthony's Fire (from its

burning heat or, perhaps, because Saint Anthony was supposed to cure it


Fatty Liver: Cirrhosis

Flux: See dysentery.

Furuncle: See boil.

Gangrene: Death and decay of tissue in a part of the body--usually a

limb--due to injury, disease, or failure of blood supply. Synonym:


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: kidney stone.

Grippe: an old term for influenza

Hectic fever: A daily recurring fever with profound sweating, chills, and

flushed appearance-- often associated with pulmonary tuberculosis or

septic poisoning.

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 were thought

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 disturbed

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, and

mucous membranes, due to an

increase of bile pigments in the blood. Synonym: icterus.

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, caused by

an insufficient intake of calories or protein.

Meningitis: Inflammation of the meninges characterized by high fever,

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

Mormal: gangrene

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 cavity.

Symptoms are chills, fever, dry cough, and pain in the affected side (a


Pneumonia: Inflammation of the lungs

Podagra: Gout

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. Synonyms: suppurative tonsillitis, cynanche tonsillaris,

paristhmitis, sore throat.

Scarlatina: Scarlet fever. A contagious disease.

Scrofula: Primary tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands, especially those

in the neck. A disease of children and young adults. Synonym: king's evil.

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 the teeth.

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 specific that

enters the body through wounds. Synonyms: trismus, lockjaw.

Thrush: A disease characterized by whitish spots and ulcers on the

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 in infants,

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: enteric fever.

Typhus: An acute, infectious disease transmitted by lice and fleas. The

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.

Variola: smallpox

Winter Fever: pneumonia

Yellow fever: An acute, often-fatal, infectious disease of warm

climates -- caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes

See Also[edit | edit source]

Historical Glossaries and References