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Medical Terms You Might Come Across


In researching your family tree you are likely to come across some medical terminology that seems odd to modern ears. Terms like Apoplexy, Corruption, Gravel, Idiot, Jail Fever and White Swelling seem baffling but have simply been updated as medical science improves.

List of old-fashioned terms and modern equivalents

The list below summarises some of the more common medical terms included in old medical or death records etc

Ague – Malaria

Apoplexy – Stroke

Atrophy – Wasting

Bilious Fever – Vomiting, various causes

Brain Fever – Meningitis

Canker – Ulcerous sores

Carbuncle – Deep-seated infection

Consumption – Pulmonary Tuberculosis

Convulsions – Fever due to infection

Corruption – Infection

Creeping Paralysis – Multiple Sclerosis

Debility – Bodily weakness

Dropsy – Kidney disease or Congestive heart failure

Enteric Fever – Typhoid

Falling Sickness – Epilepsy

Flux – Diarrhoea

Gravel – Kidney Stones

Idiot or Imbecile – Mental Impairment

Infantile Paralysis – Polio

Intemperance – Lack of restraint usually referring to Alcoholism

Jail Fever – Typhus

Lying-in – Childbirth

Mania – Insanity

Marasmus – Severe Malnutrition

Milk Fever – Infection from drinking unpasteurised milk

Mortification – Decaying of a body part e.g. Gangrene

Natural Decay – Death from old age

Palsy – Paralysis

Phthisis – Pulmonary Tuberculosis

Pink Disease – Mercury poisoning

Puerperal Fever – Bacterial infection after childbirth

Putrid Sore Throat – Severe Tonsillitis

Quinsy – Inflammation of the Mouth and Tonsils

Remitting Fever – Malaria

Rickets – Vitamin D deficiency leading to a weakening of the bones, usually in children

Scarlatina – Scarlet Fever

Screws – Rheumatism

Scrofula – Tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands, usually in children

Scurvy – Vitamin C deficiency

Senile Decay – weakening due to old age

Ship Fever – Typhus

Softening of the Brain – Senility

Teething – raised temperature from teething was then often fatal

Undulant Fever – from drinking infected milk

White Swelling – enlargement of the joins usually due to Tuberculosis

Winter Fever – Pneumonia

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