Medical Terms From the Past

Many times in the process of doing research I have come upon medical terms used in past days that leave me wondering "WHAT did they have??".

A collection of some of these terms and their meanings are included below. If you have additions or corrections to share, please send them to me via my email at the bottom of the page and I will add them to the list.

Ague: fever

Air-swelling: tympanities, air or gas in the intestines

Anchylosis: stiff joints

Anidrosis: too little perspiration

Anthrax: disease that has a painful primary lesion

Apoplexy: stroke

Arachnitis: inflamation of the brain

Barber's Itch: ring-worm of the beard

Bilious Colic: severe stomach pain

Bloody Flux or Dysentery: colitis

Brights Disease of the kidneys: albumen in the urine

Bronchorrhea: bronchial flue

Brown Tail Rash: an irritating skin rash caused by small hairs shed by the gypsy moth that are carried by the wind and lodge in the pores of the skin

Blue Disease: cyanosis, recognized by a blue tinge over the whole body; body warmth is reduced, hampering breathing; usually fatal.

Brain Fever: intense headache, fever, vertigo, intolerance to light or sound; migraine headache

Bronze John: see: yellow fever

Cabled up: refers to someone that is crippled from old age or disease

Chilbains: painful sore or swelling on the foot or hand caused by exposure to the cold

Child-Bed Fever: septicaemia, blood poisoning during pregnancy

Cholera: a bacterial disease usually spread through contaminated water. Cholera causes severe diarrhea and dehydration. Left untreated, cholera can be fatal in a matter of hours, even in previously healthy people.

Clap: gonorrhea

Consumption: tuberculosis of the lungs

Costiveness: constipation

Crusted Tetter: impetigo

Devonshire Colic: also known as Painters colic, a type of colic associated with slow lead poisoning

Dropsy: edema, a collection of water in a large cavity

Dropsy of the Brain: abnormal increase of fluid in the brain

Dry Belly-Ache: same as Devonshire Colic

Erysipelas: infectious disease with inflammation of the skin, accompanied by fever

Egyptian Chlorosis: hookworm

False Measles: same as Rose Rash

Flatulent Colic: same as Wind Colic

Fits: convulsions

Green Sickness: chlorosis, a green tinge in skin of a young girl in puberty

Indican in the Urine: poisonous material being returned to the system

Infantile Debility: same as marasmus

Infantile Spinal Paralysis: polio Idrosis: greatly increased perspiration

King's Evil: scrofula, swelling of the neck glands, tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands

Lagrippe: a form of influenza

Lead Palsy: result of Painter's colic, leaves muscles of forearms palsied.

Lumbago: rheumatic pain in the back

Lung Fever: pneumonia

Marasmus: infantile debility, child is unable to absorb nutrition from food

Milk Crust: small red, itchy pimples on the face or scalp of infants or children which burst and seeps a sticky fluid forming a yellow crust

Milk Leg: phlebitis or inflammation in the leg beginning two to seven weeks after giving birth

Milk Sickness: also known as trembles; contracted by eating a plant which grows in level, heavily-timbered, wet oak-land (mainly in the West), or by eating meat wherein the animal has grazed upon such plants. Symptoms are nausea, vomiting, general debility, peculiar odor to the breath

Mother's Marks: dilation of minute blood-vessels, varying in size, the smallest being the "spider mark"

Mortification: complete death of a part of the body changing it to a black, stinking mass; gangrene

Mountain Fever

Osmidrosis: perspiration with a peculiar smell

Painter's Colic: also known as Devonshire Colic

Palsy: paralysis to a body part Pellagra: a vitamin deficiency

Pessary: a device worn to change the angle of or give support to a displaced uterus

Phisic/Physic: administer medicine to; "also indicated that a power cathartic had been administered. Dr. Rush of Philadelphia was famous for his powerful physics, as they believed that the humors could only be balanced by ridding the body of it's poisons. So, if you were sick, you could expect to be given a powerful laxative and to have vomiting induced as well" per Jon Ridge at

Phlebitis: tenderness or hardness of an infected vein

Piles: hemorrhoids

Podagra: gout involving the MP joint of the big toe

Pox: syphilis

Purple Disease: rash of small spots on body, bright red which changes to a purple or dark-red irregular patch

Putrid Fever: same as Typhus Fever

Pyemia: a form of blood poisoning from pus in the blood

Rose-Rash: false measles, or roseola

Rheumatism: inflammation of the joints

Saint Vitus's Dance: nervous disorder which creates involuntary muscular contractions

Sciatica: painful nerve in hip or thigh

Scrofula: same as King's Evil

Spotted Fever: cerebro-spinal memingitis

St. Anthony's Fire: same as erysipelas

Summer Complaint of Infants: cholera in infants

Typhus Fever: contagious disease transmitted to man by the bite of fleas, lice; accompanied by fever

Uremia: increased urea in the blood

Water Brash: similar to heartburn, belching of a thin, watery fluid

Wind Colic: distressing pain in the bowels

Wool Sorter's Disease: same as anthrax

Yellow Jack or Yellow Fever: infectious tropical disease transmitted by a yellow fever mosquito


My name is Stephenie Flora. Thanks for stopping by. Return to [ Home Page ] All [ Comments ] are welcome.