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DISEASES and MEDICAL TERMS
for GENEALOGISTS (A-E)

Compiled and revised by Ian Beach.
Bunbury, Western Australia

All suggestions or additions gratefully received.

eMail: Ian Beach

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Abasia

Hysterical inability to walk or stand.

Ablepsia/Ablepsy/Abopsia

Blindness

Abortion

Expulsion of a foetus before it is viable, ie. Miscarriage. When this results from the actions of the doctor it is termed induced abortion or termination of pregnancy

Abortus Fever

See Brucellosis

Abscess

A localised collection of pus buried in tissues, organs, or confined spaces of the body, often accompanied by swelling and inflammation and frequently caused by bacteria. The brain, lung, or kidney (for instance) could be involved. See Boil.

Accoucheur

A man who acts as a midwife.

Accoucheuse

A midwife

Accubation

Childbirth

Acescency

A tendency to sourness; incipient or slight acidity

Achor

Eruption on the scalp

Actinic Rays

Ultra-violet light

Acute Angina

Angina or angina pectoris refers to a pain in the centre of the chest which comes from the heart. It is caused by the muscles of the heart not receiving enough oxygen (via the blood)

Acute Mania

Severe insanity

Acute

Describes any illness of sudden or recent onset

Addison's disease

A disease characterised by severe weakness, low blood pressure, and a bronzed coloration of the skin, due to decreased secretion of cortisol from the adrenal gland. Dr. Thomas Addison (1793-1860), born near Newcastle, England, described the disease in 1855. Synonyms Morbus addisonii, Bronzed skin disease.

Aegrotantem

Illness, sickness

Aglutition

Inability to swallow

Agony

Literally means the violent struggle with death

Ague

Malarial or intermittent fever characterised by paroxysms (stages of chills, fever, and sweating at regularly recurring times) and followed by an interval or intermission whose length determines the epithets quotidian, tertian, quartan, and quintan ague (defined in the text). 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.

Ainhum

Stricture resulting from minor cuts at the base of a digit eventually resulting in amputation

Albuminuria

An abnormal condition characterised by the presence of albumose in the urine.

Albumose

A substance formed during the early digestion of protein. It is an intermediate stage between albumen and peptone.

Aleppo Boil

See Leishmaniasis

Alveolus

1. An air vesicle of the lung. 2. A tooth socket. 3. A gland follicle or acinus.

Alvine

Pertaining to the bowels

Alzheimer's Disease

Form of dementia

American Plague

Yellow fever

Anasarca

Generalised massive dropsy. See Dropsy.

Ancome

A whitlow, an ulcerous swelling

Aneurysm

A local dilation in the course of an artery may occur in any part but most common in the arch of the aorta, thoracic aorta, femoral artery, popliteal artery and abdominal aorta (last one more rarely)

Angina Pectoris

Characterised by agonising pain directly behind the breastbone, due to temporary lack of blood supply to the heart muscle. The pain, which radiates down the left arm, is so acute that, the sufferer is unable or afraid to move and retains that position assumed when the attack commenced. The face is pale and the skin cold and clammy.

Angina.

Means choking – spasmodic attacks of pain accompanied by a sensation of suffocation and impending death.

Anile

Of or like an old woman; imbecile

Anteroseptal

Myocardial infarction. Occluded left anterior descending coronary bypass graft.

Anthracosis

Lung disease caused by inhalation of coal dust. A form of pneumoconiosis

Aperient

A laxative medicine or food

Aphonia

Laryngitis

Aphtha(e)

See Thrush.

Aphthous stomatitis

See Canker.

Apnoea

Transitory cessation of breathing.

Apoplexy

Paralysis due to stroke

Arachnoid

Resembling a spider's web.

Arteriosclerosis

Thickening and hardening of artery walls.

Ascites

See Dropsy.

Asphycsia/Asphicsia

Cyanotic and lack of oxygen

Asthenia

See Debility.

Atavism

Heredity

Atelectasis

Imperfect expansion of lungs of a newborn baby. Collapse of the lungs.

Atheroma

Slow degeneration of arteries when fatty deposits collect on the inner lining.

Athetosis

Writhing movements

Atrophy

Wasting away or emaciation. Usually modified e.g. Brain atrophy.

Bad Blood

Syphilis.

Barber's Itch

Infection of the hair follicles of the beard area

Barber's Rash

Infection of the hair follicles of the beard area

Barrel Fever

Vomiting or illness due to excessive consumption of alcoholic drinks

Beriberi

Vitamin B1 deficiency

Bilious fever

A term loosely applied to certain enteric (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.

Biskra Button

See Leishmaniasis

Black Death

Bubonic plague

Black Fever

Acute infection with high temperature and dark red skin lesions and high mortality rate

Black Jaundice

Wiel's Disease. Disease with fever and jaundice. Caused by a germ found in the urine of rats and hence common in workers who work in dirty water such as miners and sewer workers. Can be rarely contracted from birds.

Black Lung

Disease from breathing coal dust

Black Plague

Bubonic plague

Black Pox

Black small pox

Black Vomit

Vomiting black blood due to ulcers or Yellow fever.

Blackwater Fever

Severe form of malaria in which the urine contains so much blood it appears black.

Bladder In Throat

See Diphtheria

Blood Poisoning

Septicaemia

Bloody Flux

Dysentery

Bloody Sweat

Sweating sickness

Boil

An abscess of skin or painful, circumscribed inflammation of the skin or a hair follicle, having a dead, pus-forming inner core, usually caused by a staphylococcal infection. Synonym: furuncle.

Bone Shave

Sciatica

Brain fever

See Meningitis, Typhus.

Brassfounders Ague

Illness caused by poisoning from fumes produced during the production of metals

Break Bone Fever

Dengue fever

Bright's Disease

Bright's disease is a catch all for kidney diseases

Brill's Disease

See Typhus

Bromidism

Condition caused by over indulgence of potassium bromide

Bronchial Asthma

A paroxysmal, often allergic disorder of breathing, characterised 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. In the nineteenth century the direct causes were thought to be dust, vegetable irritants, chemical vapours, animal emanations, climatic influences, and bronchial inflammation—all of which were reasonable guesses. The indirect causes were thought to be transmissions by the nervous system or by the blood from gout, syphilis, skin disease, renal disease, or heredity. Only the latter cause was a reasonable assumption.

Bronchial Catarrh

See Bronchitis below.

Bronchiectasis

Dilation of the bronchial tubes.

Bronchitis

Inflammation of the air passages.

Bronze John

Yellow fever

Brucellosis

Disease from drinking contaminated milk, causes a feverish illness of variable duration and frequently depression. In Malta can be caught from goats and in the USA and far east from pigs.

Bubo

Inflamed, enlarged or painful gland in the groin. One of the symptoms of Bubonic Plague.

Bule

Boil, tumour or swelling

Bulimia

Excessive appetite.

Cachaemia

Any blood disease

Cachexia

(ka-keks-i-a) Emaciation usually due to cancer or malaria. A term denoting a state of constitutional disorder, malnutrition and general ill health. The chief signs of this condition are bodily emaciation, sallow, unhealthy skin and heavy lustreless eyes. Wasting.

Cacoepy

Emaciation

Cacoethes

Recurrent bad health

Cacogastric

Indigestion

Cacospysy

Irregular pulse

Caduceus

1. The symbol of a sword and intertwined snakes (the herald's wand)
2. Prone to falling or epilepsy. Caducous is a botanical term describing a plant that dies or sheds its leaves prematurely

Caisson Disease

The bends or decompression sickness

Calculus.

A concretion (deposit of calcific or other hard material) formed within certain parts of the body cavities, especially the kidneys, ureter, urinary bladder, gall bladder and bile ducts.

Camp Diarrhoea

See Typhus

Camp fever

See Typhus.

Cancer

A malignant and invasive growth or tumour (especially tissue that covers a surface or lines a cavity), tending to recur after excision and to spread to other sites. In the nineteenth century, physicians noted that cancerous tumours 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, rapidly proceeding to sloughing. 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 acting upon a debilitated system. It commonly followed one of the eruptive fevers and was often fatal. The destructive 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, and a horribly fetid saliva flowed from the parts. Synonyms canker, water canker, noma, gangrenous stomatitis, gangrenous ulceration of the mouth

Canine Madness

Rabies, hydrophobia (Fear of water).

Canker

An ulcerous sore of the mouth and lips, not considered fatal today. Synonym aphthous stomatitis. See Cancrum Oris.

Carbuncle

A large boil

Carcinoma

See cancer.

Carcinomatosis

Generalised involvement by carcinoma (cancer) a malignant growth derived from epithelia and glandular tissue.

Cardiac Arrythmia

Irregular heartbeat.

Cardiac Insufficiency

Heart failure.

Carditis

Inflammation of the heart wall

Caries

Destruction of bone

Catalepsy

Seizures/trances

Catamenia

The menstrual discharge or menstruation

Cataplasm

Poultice

Cataplexy

Trance like state brought on by extreme fright (like a rabbit in car's headlights)

Catarrh

Inflammation of a mucous membrane, especially of the air passages of the head and throat, with a free discharge. It is characterised by cough, thirst, lassitude, fever, watery eyes, and increased secretions of mucus from the air passages. 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.

Cathartic

Laxative

Caul

The membrane surrounding a baby before it is born. May not rupture at birth and cover the baby's head. (Supposed to have been lucky if child was born with its caul intact.)

Cellulitis

Inflammation of the cellular or connective tissue.

Cerebral

The brain. Pertaining to the cerebrum.

Cerebral softening

This term could be any brain disease. The commonest fatal brain diseases in adults are strokes.

Cerebritis

Inflammation of cerebrum or lead poisoning

Cerebrospinal.

 Pertaining to the brain and spinal cord

Chagres fever

See Ague

Chilblain

Swelling with itching and burning sensation of the extremities caused by exposure to cold.

Child Bed Fever

Infection (in the mother) following birth of a child

Childbirth

A cause given for many female deaths of the century. Almost all babies were born in homes and usually were delivered by a family member or a midwife; thus infection and lack of medical skill were often the actual causes of death.

Chincough

Whooping cough

Chlorosis

Iron deficiency anaemia

Choak

Croup

Choke-Damp

Asphyxiating gas, largely carbon dioxide, accumulated in a mine, well, etc.

Cholaemia

The presence of bile in the blood.

Cholangitis

Inflammation of the bile duct.

Cholecystitis

Inflammation of the gall bladder

Cholelithiasis

Gall stones

Cholera Infantum

A common, non-contagious diarrhoea of young children, occurring in summer or autumn. In the nineteenth century it was considered indigenous to the United States; was prevalent during the hot weather in most of the towns of the middle and southern states, as well as many western areas; and was characterised by gastric pain, vomiting, purgation, fever, and prostration. 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

Cholera Morbus

Illness with vomiting, abdominal cramps and elevated temperature. Could be appendicitis

Cholera

An acute, infectious disease, endemic in India and China and now occasionally epidemic elsewhere - characterised by profuse diarrhoea, vomiting, and cramps. It is caused by a potent toxin discharged by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which acts on the small intestine to cause secretion of large amounts of fluid. The painless, watery diarrhoea and the passing of ricewater stool are characteristic. Great body-salt depletion occurs. Cholera is spread by faeces-contaminated water and food. Major epidemics struck the United States in the years 1832, 1849, and 1866. In the 1830s the causes were generally thought to be intemperance in the use of ardent spirits or drinking bad water; uncleanliness, poor living or crowded and ill-ventilated dwellings; and too much fatigue. By 1850 cholera was thought to be caused by putrid animal poison and miasma or pestilential vapour rising from swamps and marshes—or that it entered the body through the lungs or was transmitted through the medium of clothing. It was still believed that it attacked the poor, the dissolute, the diseased, and the fearful—while the healthy, well-clad, well-fed, and fearless man escaped the ravages of cholera.

Choleric Fever Of Children

See Cholera Infantum

Cholecystitus

Inflammation of the gall bladder.

Cholelithiasis

Gall stones

Chorea

Any of several diseases of the nervous system, characterised by jerky movements that appear to be well coordinated but are performed involuntarily, chiefly of the face and extremities. Synonym Saint Vitus' dance.

Chronic

Persisting over a long period of time as opposed to acute or sudden. This word was often the only one entered under "cause of death" in the mortality schedules. The actual disease meant by the term is open to speculation.

Cicatrized

Scarred

Cirrhosis

A pathological change occurring in the tissue of certain organs, especially the lung and liver. The organ becomes contracted, granular and hard. A liver showing this appearance is often known as "hobnail" liver because of its knobbed surface.

Climacteric

Pertaining to a critical period in human life. In females; the time after the menopause (the menopause is the first day of the last ever menstrual period). In males; the period when fertility and libido are in decline

Clyster

Injection, enema

Cocker

Pamper, indulge, coddle

Cold Plague

Ague which is characterised by chills

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; but in the last century a study reported that in cases of death, intussusception (the prolapse of one part of the intestine into the lumen of an immediately adjoining part) occasionally occurred. Renal colic can occur from disease in the kidney, gallstone colic from a stone in the bile duct.

Commotion

Concussion

Congenital

Existing at the time of birth.

Congestion

An excessive or abnormal accumulation of blood or other fluid in a body part or blood vessel. In congestive fever (see text), the internal organs become gorged with blood.

Congestive Chills/Fever

Malaria

Consumption

A wasting away of the body; formerly applied especially to pulmonary tuberculosis. The disorder is now known to be an infectious disease caused by the bacterial species Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Synonyms marasmus (in the mid-nineteenth century), phthisis.

Contagious Pyrexia

Dysentery

Convulsions

Severe contortion of the body caused by violent, involuntary muscular contractions of the extremities, trunk, and head. See epilepsy.

Corruption

Infection

Coryza

See catarrh.

Costive

Constipated; elsewhere may mean reticent, slow, niggardly, etc.

Costiveness

Constipation

Cramp Colic

Appendicitis

Cretinism

Mental retardation due to congenitally under-active thyroid

Crop Sickness

Overextended stomach from over eating

Croup

Any obstructive condition of the larynx (voice box) or trachea (windpipe), characterised by a hoarse, barking cough and difficult breathing occurring chiefly in infants and children. The obstruction could be caused by allergy, a foreign body, infection, or new growth (tumour). 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

Cyanosis

Dark skin colour from lack of oxygen in blood or poor circulation to the skin

Cyesis

Pregnancy

Cynanche Tonsillaris

See Quinsy

Cynanche Trachealis

See Croup

Cynanche

Diseases of throat

Cystitis

Inflammation of the urinary bladder. May be acute or chronic.

Day Fever

Fever lasting one day, sweating sickness

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.

Decay of Nature

Probably old age.

Decline

Failing health. Archaic term for tuberculosis or a similar wasting disease

Decrepitude

Feebleness due to old age

Decubitis

Died in bed.

Delhi Boil

See Leishmaniasis

Delirium Tremens

Hallucinations due to alcoholism. Results from alcoholic intoxication and is represented by a picture of confusion, terror, restlessness and hallucinations. Commonly know as "the DTs"

Dengue Fever

Infectious fever endemic to East Africa

Dentition

Cutting (eruption) of the teeth

Deplumation

Disease or tumour of the eyelids which causes hair loss

Diary Fever

A fever that lasts one day

Diphtheria

An acute infectious disease caused by toxicogenic strains of the bacillus Corynebacterium diphtheriae, acquired by contact with an infected person or a carrier of the disease. It was usually confined to the upper respiratory tract (throat) and characterised 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.

Disseminated

Scattered. A disease characterised by the presence of inflammatory patches that later become sclerosed, scattered freely throughout the brain and spinal cord.

Distemper

Disturbed condition of the body or mind; ill health, illness; a mental or physical disorder; a disease or ailment. Usually animal disease with malaise and discharge from nose and throat.

Dock Fever

Yellow fever

Domestic Illness

Mental breakdown, depression (Post Natal Depression ?)

Dropsy of the Brain

Encephalitis

Dropsy

A contraction for Hydropsy. Oedema, the presence of abnormally large amounts of fluid in intercellular tissue spaces or body cavities. Abdominal dropsy is ascites; brain dropsy is hydrocephalus; and chest dropsy is hydrothorax. Cardiac dropsy is a symptom of disease of the heart and arises from obstruction to the current of blood through the heart, lungs, or liver. Anasarca is general fluid accumulation throughout the body.

Dry Bellyache

Abdominal pain due to lead poisoning from lead containing medicines

Dyscrasy

An abnormal body condition

Dysentery

A term given to a number of disorders marked by inflammation of the intestines (especially of the colon) and attended by pain in the abdomen, by tenesmus (straining to defecate without the ability to do so), and by frequent stools containing blood and mucus. The causative agent may be chemical irritants, bacteria, protozoan, or parasitic worms. There are two specific varieties (1) amoebic dysentery caused by the protozoan Endamoeba Histolytica; (2) bacillary dysentery caused by bacteria of the genus Shigella. Dysentery was one of the most severe scourges of armies in the nineteenth century. The several forms of dysentery and diarrhoea accounted for more than one fourth of all the cases of disease reported during the first two years of the Civil War. Synonyms flux, bloody flux, contagious pyrexia (fever), frequent griping stools.

Dysorexy

Reduced appetite

Dyspepsia

Acid indigestion

Dysphasia

Difficulty in speech.

Dysuria/Dysury

Difficulty in or painful urination

Eclampsia

A form of toxaemia (toxins or poisons in the blood) accompanying pregnancy, characterised by albuminuria (protein in the urine), by hypertension (high blood pressure), and by convulsions. In the last century, the term was used for any form of convulsion. Oedema. See dropsy.

Ecstasy A

Form of catalepsy characterised by loss of reason

Edema

See Oedema or Dropsy

Eel Thing

See Erysipelas

Effluvia

Exhalations or emanations, applied especially to those of noxious character. In the mid-nineteenth century, they were called "vapours" and distinguished into the contagious effluvia, such as rubeolar (measles); marsh effluvia, such as miasmata; and those arising from animals or vegetables, such as odours.

Elephantiasis Nostra

See elephantiasis

Elephantiasis

Swelling of a limb caused by lymphatic obstruction. Leads to thickening of the skin (pachyderma) often used as a synonym for filariasis but may result from syphilis or recurring streptococcal infection (elephantiasis nostra)

Embolism

The presence in the blood-stream of a detached part of a thrombosis or the foreign body which travels with the stream until it reaches the vessel too small to allow it to pass, with the result that the circulation becomes obstructed.

Emphysema

Pulmonary. A chronic, irreversible disease of the lungs, characterised by abnormal enlargement of air spaces in the lungs and accompanied by destruction of the tissue lining the walls of the air sacs. By 1900 the condition was recognised as a chronic disease of the lungs associated with marked dyspnoea (shortness of breath), hacking cough, defective aeration (oxygenation) of the blood, cyanosis (blue colour of facial skin), and a full and rounded or "barrel-shaped" chest. This disease is now most commonly associated with tobacco smoking.

Empiric

A person who practises medicine without scientific knowledge; a quack; a charlatan

Empyema

A collection of pus, especially in the pleural cavity but may also occur in other closed body cavities. eg. Gall bladder.

Encephalitis

Inflammation of the brain.

Endocarditis

Inflammation of the inner lining of the heart.

Endothelioma

Growth of the lining membrane of serous cavities, blood vessels or lymph vessels.

Eneuresis Nocturna

Bed wetting

Enteric fever

See typhoid fever.

Enteritis

Inflammation of the bowels

Enterocolitis

Inflammation of the intestines

Epidemic Catarrh

Influenza

Epidemic Neuritis

Beriberi

Epilepsy

A disorder of the nervous system, characterised either by mild, episodic loss of attention or sleepiness (petittnal) or by severe convulsions with loss of consciousness (grand mal). Synonyms: falling sickness, fits.

Epistaxis

Nose bleed

Epithelioma

Cancer of the skin.

Ertythaema Pernio

Chilblain

Erysipelas

An acute, febrile, infectious disease, caused by a specific group 4 streptococcus bacterium and characterised by a diffusely spreading, deep-red inflammation of the skin or mucous membranes causing a rash with a well-defined margin. Synonyms Rose, Saint Anthony's Fire (from its burning heat or, perhaps, because Saint Anthony was Supposed to cure it miraculously).

Erysipeloid

Skin condition resembling Erysipelas occurring in butchers, fishmongers and cooks. Caused by the erysipelothrix of swine erysipelas

Euphoria

Inappropriate happiness or laughing. Could be due to mania or in servicemen shell-shock, battle fatigue, post engagement stress syndrome.

Exacerbation

Increased severity as of symptoms.

Excision

Removal of a part by cutting away.

Excrescence

An unnatural or disfiguring outgrowth of the skin or any unnecessary physical development.

Extravasted blood

Rupture of a blood vessel

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