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Old, Outdated, No Longer Used Names for Diseases and Conditions

You May Find Them in Historical Novels or on Death Certificates


Updated September 17, 2013

You may have grown up hearing the names of medical problems, like diseases, conditions or symptoms, from older relatives, or have found the cause of death on an ancestor's death certificate - names you no longer hear today. Maybe you read historical fiction or old biographies, or enjoy old Western movies that mention disease or condition names that are no longer used.

Just like there are new diseases and conditions being named on a regular basis, so, too, are older names falling by the wayside, usually because they have been replaced by a newer, perhaps more accurate name (Consumption is now called Tuberculosis, Leprosy is called Hanson's Disease).

In some cases, diseases may seem to have disappeared, although they probably haven't. Instead they may continue to occur in pockets of the world where sanitation is a challenge. Examples are Bubonic Plague, Typhus, and Cholera.

Just as these disease and condition names are old, and rarely (if ever) used today, so are there many old treatments. Blood letting was used for thousands of years to allow disease to simply trickle out of the body (here is an interesting accounting of blood letting from PBS). Of course, many of us think we are familiar with the use of snake oil, too (although it turns out that what we think we know about it, and reality, may be two different things.) Ironically, some of those old treatments are being looked at again as research is being done on many of the complementary and alternative (CAM) forms of treatment.

Here are some of those old disease and condition names you may encounter, along with their more current name, if known.

(If you know of one we have missed, please add it here.)

Ablepsy: blindness

Ague: flu-like symptoms, most like malaria

Apoplexy: stroke

Barrel fever: probably alcoholism

Biliousness: jaundice

Black Dog: Depression (term used by Winston Churchill)

Breakbone: Dengue fever

Camp fever: Typhus

Chalkstones: swelling with pain, most like rheumatoid arthritis or even gout

Congestive fever: malaria

Consumption: tuberculosis

Domestic Malady: depression, or some sort of emotional breakdown

Dropsy: swelling caused by fluid retention

Dropsy of the Brain: enchephalitis

Falling Sickness: Epilepsy

French Pox: Syphilis

Green Sickness or Green Fever: anemia

Grip, Gripe or Grippe: flu

Jail fever: Typhus

Leprosy: Hanson's Disease

Melancholia: Severe depression

Mortification: Gangrene

Palsy: problems with muscle control, either tremor-like or paralysis

Quincy or Quinsy: Tonsillitis

Scrumpox: Skin disease, impetigo

Ship fever: Typhus

St Vitus Dance: involuntary jerking movements, Chorea

Winter fever: Pneumonia

(Do you know one that's not listed? Add it here.)


USGenNet (genealogy) Diseases Found on Death Certificates

Rudy's List of Archaic Medical Terms

Old Disease Names from Sylvain Cazalet

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