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Old disease names and their modern definitions

Logan County Genealogical Society

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The following is a list of diseases commonly cited in historic obituaries and death certificates and their present day equivalents. Most of the definitions of diseases are from medical dictionaries or medical texts compiled at different points in the nineteenth century. While I have tried to submit the best-possible interpretation of these terms, there are certainly other interpretations which may be valid. I don’t guarantee that all definitions are 100% correct.


• Acute Mania – severe insanity


• Aphonia – laryngiti


• Apoplexy – paralysis due to stroke


• Ague – used to define the recurring fever and chills of malarial infection


• Aphtha – the infant disease “thrush”


• Bad Blood – syphilis


• Biliousness – jaundice or other symptoms associated with liver disease


• Black Fever – acute infection with high temperature and dark red skin lesions and high mortality rate


• Black Plague or death – Bubonic plaque


• Black vomit – vomiting old black blood due to ulcers or yellow fever


• Bloody flux - Bloody stools


• Bright’s Disease – Bright’s Disease is a catch-all for kidney diseases/disorders


• Camp Fever – typhus


• Canine Madness – rabies, hydrophobia


• Catarrhal – inflammation of mucous membrane


• Chlorosis – iron deficiency anemia


• Chorea (St. Vitus’ Dance) – nervous disorder


• Commotion – Concussion


• Consumption – tuberculosis


• Corruption – infection


• Coryza – a cold


• Costiveness – constipation


• Cramp Colic – appendicitis


• Croup – laryngitis, diphtheria, or strep throat


• Domestic Illness – polite way of saying mental breakdown, depression, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, or the after effects of a stroke or any illness that kept a person housebound and probably in need of nursing support.


• Dropsy – edema (swelling), often caused by kidney or heart disease. Dropsy would be called congestive heart failure today. It is an accumulation of fluid around the heart, for a variety of complex reasons, and one treatment is administration of digitalis (foxglove leaves).


• Dyspepsia – acid indigestion


• Extravasted blood – rupture of a blood vessel


• Falling Sickness – epilepsy


• Flux of Humour – circulation


• French Pox – venereal disease


• Gout – any inflammation, not just in a joint or extremity, caused by the formation of crystals of oxalic acid when it accumulates in the body. It most often occurs in joints where circulation is poor, and can even cause gallstones or kidney stones. Gout is a disease caused by a buildup of urate or uric acid in the body, which crystallizes out in areas without much rapid blood flow and can cause damage when, for example, a toe is stubbed.


• Green Sickness – anemia


• Hip Gout – osteomyelitis


• Jail Fever – typhus


• King’s Evil (Scrofula) – tubercular infection of the throat lymph glands


• La Grippe – flu


• Lues Venera – venereal disease


• Lumbago – back pain


• Lung Fever – pneumonia


• Lung Sickness – tuberculosis


• Mania – insanity


• Marasmus – progressive emaciation


• Membranous Croup – hoarse cough


• Milk Leg – a painful swelling of the leg beginning at the ankle and ascending, or at the groin and extending down the thigh. Its usual cause is infection after labor.


• Mortification – infection


• Neurasthenia – neurotic condition


• Nostalgia – homesickness


• Protein Disease – a once relatively common childhood kidney disease that causes the kidney to leak protein. This is a secondary allergic reaction to certain kinds of strep infections.


• Putrid Fever – diphtheria


• Quinsy – tonsillitis


• Remitting Fever – malaria


• Sanguineous Crust – scab


• Screws – rheumatism


• Scrofula – see King’s Evil


• Septicemia – blood poisoning


• Ship Fever – typhus


• Softening of brain – Result of stroke or hemorrhage in the brain, with an end result of the tissue softening in that area


• Strangery – rupture


• Summer Complaint – baby diarrhea caused by spoiled milk


• Softening of brain – Result of stroke or hemorrhage in the brain, with an end result of the tissue softening in that area


• Venesection (Bleeding Venesection) – bleeding or blood letting


Published in Logan County Genealogical Society Newsletter, Vol. 25, Issue 2, 2002


— Logan County Genealogical Society meetings are held on the second Monday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Logan Area Public Library at Logan. Anyone wishing to learn more about researching their ancestors is welcome to attend the meetings or follow them on Facebook at Logan County WV Genealogical Society.

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