The following glossary of medical terms was assembled as part of a project on medicine from 1760-1830 but it includes some terms from a wider period. I have drawn on several sources, including, with the permission of the author, Medical Terms used in the late 18th Century which appeared on a now obsolete web site written my Melanie McClusky. Information from Dr Johnson's Dictionary, first published in 1755, is shown in red. This gives the meaning of the terms as generally understood in the middle of the 18th century. Robert Hooper's Physician's Vade-Mecum, published in 1812 has been used as a source of terms in the early 19th century; many of the terms mentioned are still in common use. Encyclopaedia Britannica has also been used for some modern descriptions including the names of infectious organisms.
Abortus fever: Brucellosis, a disease caught from
cattle via milk resulting in a fever.
Abscess: a swelling in soft tissue filled with pus caused by an infection, such as a boil.
Acute: means a condition of recent origin whereas chronic means of long standing.
Addison's disease: anaemic condition caused by kidney 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. Thomas Addison (1793-1860) described the disease in 1855. Synonyms: Morbus addisonii, bronzed skin disease.
Ague: malarial infection characterised by paroxysms (stages of chills, fever, and sweating at regularly recurring times) and followed by an interval or intermission of varying duration. Popularly, the disease was known as "fever and ague", "chill fever", "the shakes." An intermittent fever, with cold fits succeeded by hot. Ague fit: the paroxysm of the ague. See also malaria. Ague cake is a hardening of the spleen caused by malaria.
Anaemia: lack of sufficient red blood cells, sometimes caused by iron deficiency and worsened by the medical practice of bleeding patients for virtually every condition. Also known as green fever, green sickness. See also chlorosis.
Aneurysm: a ballooning of an artery caused by a weakened artery wall.
Anascara: generalised dropsy. See dropsy.
Angina: means choking, angina pectoris is a pain in the chest caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries.
Apoplexy: paralysis caused by stroke. Sudden deprivation of all the internal and external sensation and of all motion unless of the heart and thorax.
Aphthae: or Aphthous fever, see thrush.
Aphthous stomatitis: mouth ulcer. See also canker.
Ascites: a build up of fluid in the abdomen caused by heart failure or kidney disease. See also dropsy.
Asthenia: see debility.
Bad Blood: see syphilis
Bilious fever: intestinal or malarial fevers. See also typhus.
Biliousness: nausea, abdominal pains, headache, and constipation. Also jaundice associated with liver disease.
Black Death or Black plague: bubonic plague, an infectious fever caused by the bacillus Yersinia pestis transmitted by the rat flea. The disease in man has three clinical forms: bubonic, in which there is swelling of the lymph nodes (buboes); pneumonic, in which the lungs are extensively involved; and septicaemia, in which the bloodstream is infected so rapidly that death occurs before the bubonic or pneumonic symptoms have appeared. The Black Death in Europe killed about one quarter of the population between 1347 and 1351. The Great Plague in England was 1664-1665 and is described in the diaries of Samuel Pepys. It killed 70,000 out of a population of 460,000 in the London area. Synonym: pestis.
Black Jaundice: Wiel's disease, a bacterial infection of the liver carried by rats, which can affect farmers and sewage workers.
Blood Poisoning: septicaemia, an infection throughout the body.
Bloody flux: blood in the stools, see dysentery.
Boil: an abscess of skin or painful inflammation of the skin or a hair follicle usually caused by a staphylococcal infection. Synonyms: furuncle, abscess.
Brain fever: see meningitis and typhus.
Bright's Disease: Glomerulonephritis (kidney inflammation). Richard Bright (1789-1858) was a colleague of Thomas Addison at Guy's hospital in London and described this condition in 1827.
Bronchial asthma: a difficulty in breathing, caused by spasm of the bronchi i.e. the tubes of the lungs.
Bronchial catarrh: acute bronchitis
Bursten: hernia or rupture.
Cachexy: also cachexia, a wasting syndrome.
Camp fever: see typhus.
Cancer: a malignant and invasive growth or tumour. A virulent swelling or sore, not to be cured. Synonyms: malignant growth, carcinoma.
Cancrum otis: an erosive ulcer of the cheek and lip resulting from poor hygiene. It was often seen in young children and could be fatal as it led to gangrene of the facial tissues. Synonyms: canker, water canker, noma, gangrenous stomatitis, gangrenous ulceration of the mouth.
Canine madness: rabies or hydrophobia
Canker: an ulcerous sore of the mouth and lips. Possibly includes herpes simplex infections commonly known as cold sores. Synonym: aphthous stomatitis. See cancrum otis. It seems to have the same meaning and origin as cancer, but denotes bad qualities in a lesser degree.
Cardiac insufficiency: where the heart is no longer able to pump efficiently. It may be a consequence of a heart attack or of damage to the valves.
Carditis: inflammation of the heart.
Catalepsy: seizure or a trance like state.
Cataplasm: a poultice.
Catarrh: inflammation of a mucous membranes of the head and throat, with a flow of mucous. 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. Catarrhal bronchitis is acute bronchitis.
Cerebrospinal fever: See meningitis.
Child bed fever: also known as puerperal fever is a form of septicaemia caused by lack of hygiene during the delivery of a baby. It was widespread in hospital deliveries in the middle of the 19th century where it was spread by doctors from patient to patient until the importance of good hygiene was finally accepted.
Chin cough: whooping cough or tussis convulsiva, mainly a disease of childhood associated with a strange sounding cough which often brings on vomiting. Synonyms: ching cough, pertussis, tussis convulsiva. (Tussis means cough; a cough medicine is an antitussive.)
Chlorosis: anaemia from iron deficiency
Cholera: an acute, infectious disease caused by Vibrio comma, characterised by profuse diarrhoea, vomiting, and cramps. Cholera is spread by faeces-contaminated water and food. Cholera was endemic in the east but did not reach England until late 1831 when it caused many deaths in the poorer parts of growing cities such as Manchester. It is commonly called Asiatic cholera as it spread from Asia across Europe in the late 1820s and early 1830s.
Cholera infantum: a common, non-contagious diarrhoea of young children, occurring in summer or autumn. It was common among the poor and in hand-fed babies i.e. babies who were fed on mixtures of bread or flour and water, possibly with admixture of cows' milk, which might be infected, or condensed milk, which was vitamin deficient. Such brews of "pap" in addition to being nutritionally inadequate were easily infected with bacteria. Death frequently occurred in three to five days. The introduction of nutritionally balanced dried milk for babies and proper disinfection of bottles and teats reduced infant mortality very markedly in Britain from about 1910 onwards. Synonyms: summer complaint, weaning brash, water gripes, choleric fever of children, cholera morbus.
Chorea: a diseases of the nervous system, characterised by jerky movements chiefly of the face and extremities. Synonym: Saint Vitus' Dance.
Chronic: of long standing as opposed to acute which means of recent origin.
Colic: abdominal pain and cramp. Renal colic can occur from disease in the kidney and affects the ureter; gallstone colic arises from stones in the bile duct. Strictly a disorder of the colon but loosely any disorder of the stomach or bowels that is attended with pain, also gripes and bellyache.
Clyster: an enema
Congestion: accumulation of blood or other fluid in a body part or blood vessel for example congestion of the lungs in failing heart. In congestive fever the internal organs become gorged with blood.
Congestive Fever: see malaria
Consumption: a wasting away of the body; formerly applied especially to pulmonary tuberculosis, caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In physick, a waste of muscular flesh. It is frequently attended by a hectick fever and is divided by physicians into several kinds, according to the variety of its causes. Synonyms: marasmus (in the mid-nineteenth century), phthisis.
Convulsions: violent, involuntary muscular contractions of the extremities, trunk, and head. An involuntary contraction of the fibres of the muscles, whereby the body and limbs are preternaturally distorted. See also epilepsy.
Coryza: a cold. See also catarrh.
Cramp colic: appendicitis
Creeping paralysis: a term that encompasses multiple sclerosis
Croup: a spasmodic laryngitis seen mainly in children and associated with a cough and difficulties in breathing. In the early 19th century it was called cynanche trachealis. Synonyms: roup, hives, choak, stuffing, rising of the lights.
Cynanche: inflammation of the throat.
Cynanche maligna: putrid sore throat.
Cynanche parotidaea: mumps.
Cynanche pharyngaea: inflammation of the pharynx.
Cynanche tonsillaris: inflammatory sore throat, See quinsy.
Cynanche trachealis: See croup.
Cyanosis: dark skin from lack of oxygenated blood.
Cystitis: inflammation of the bladder.
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.
Delirium tremens: a nervous disorder involving muscular twitching and hallucinations caused by alcohol abuse. Also known as DT and the shakes.
Dementia praecox: schizophrenia, a mental disorder characterised by disordered thinking and auditory hallucinations.
Diaphragmatitis: inflammation of the diaphragm.
Diphtheria: an acute and often fatal infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract in which a membrane grows across the throat. The organism responsible is Corynebacterium diphtheriae which does not penetrate into the tissues. However, it produces toxins which are absorbed. Synonym: malignant sore throat, putrid fever, membranous croup.
Dropsy: a swelling caused by accumulation of abnormally large amounts of fluid. Caused by kidney disease or congestive heart failure. William Withering was the first to describe the use of a foxglove (digitalis) in the treatment of dropsy. A collection of water in the body. An anascara, a species of dropsy, is an extravasation of water lodged in the cells of the membrana adiposa. (Dr. Johnson died of dropsy)
Dysentery: inflammation of the intestine. There are two varieties: (1) amoebic dysentery (2) bacillary dysentery. Synonyms: flux, bloody flux, contagious pyrexia (fever), frequent griping stools. Dr. Johnson defined it as a disease in which the excrements are mixed with blood.
Dyspepsia: acid indigestion or heart burn.
Eclampsia: a form of toxaemia accompanying pregnancy.
Effluvia: exhalations. In the mid 19th century, they were called "vapours". Among the contagious effluvia were rubeolar (measles).
Endocarditis: disease of the heart valves that can result from rheumatic fever.
Enteric fever: see typhoid fever.
Enteritis: inflammation of the bowel.
Epilepsy: a disorder of the nervous system, with either mild and occasional loss of attention or sleepiness (petit mal) or by severe convulsions with loss of consciousness (grand mal). Commonly caused by oxygen starvation during a difficult birth. Synonyms: falling sickness, fits.
Epistaxis: bleeding from the nose
Erysipelas: a feverish disease characterised by intense deep red local inflammation of the skin caused by Streptococcus bacterium. Synonyms: Rose, Saint Anthony's Fire.
Falling sickness: epilepsy.
Fistula: a sinous ulcer within. Johnson also quotes from Sharp's Surgery on fistula lachrymalis - "a disorder of the canals leading from the eye to the nose which disrupts the natural progress of the tears. The last and worst degree of it is when the matter of the eye, by its long continuance, has not only corroded the neighbouring soft parts but also affected the subjacent bone".
Furuncle: see boil.
French Pox: venereal disease, former name of syphilis. Johnson gives two meanings: pustules & many eruptive distempers and venereal disease. See also Syphilis.
G.P.I: general paralysis of the insane. The third and final stage of syphilis which may not occur until many years after the primary phase.
Gangrene: the decay of tissue, commonly the extremities, usually because of the failure of blood supply as in frost bite or as a complication of diabetes. Synonym: mortification.
Gastritis: inflammation of the stomach.
Gathering: an accumulation of pus.
Gleet: see catarrh.
Glossitis: inflammation of the tongue.
Goitre: swelling of the thyroid caused by shortage of iodine in the diet. Also known as Derbyshire neck.
Gout: an arthritic disease marked by recurrent acute attacks of pain, tenderness, redness, and swelling around the joints and tendons caused by deposits of monosodium urate crystals. Most gout cases are characterised by hyperuricaemia, i.e. high levels of uric acid in the body, that cause crystals to be deposited in the joint area. Uric acid is a normal breakdown product of purine metabolism. Abnormally elevated blood levels of uric acid, which are associated with gouty arthritis, arise through either excessive production of uric acid or decreased excretion of uric acid by the kidneys. The condition was not helped by high consumption of meat and port wine! The arthritis, a periodical disease with great pain.
Gravel: a disease characterised by small stones which are formed in the kidneys, passed along the ureters to the bladder, and expelled with the urine. See also stranguary. Synonym: kidney stone. Sandy matter concreted in the kidneys.
Great pox: see syphilis
Grippe: influenza, also La Grippe or grip.
Haematemesis: literally vomiting of blood.
Haematuria: passing blood in the urine.
Haemoptysis: spitting blood.
Headmouldshot: this is when the sutures of the skull, generally the coronal, ride: that is, have their edges shot over one another; which is frequent in infants and occasions convulsions and death. Such injury would result from difficulties in childbirth. Ricketts caused by vitamin D deficiency in addition to causing bow legs also caused deformations of the pelvis. In a woman this could make child birth more difficult than usual. The obstetric forceps were introduced into more general use in the middle of the 18th century.
Hectic fever: recurring fever with sweating, chills, and flushing.
Hepatitis: inflammation of the liver.
Hives: an allergic skin disorder, often attended by severe itching. Also called cynanche trachealis.
Hip gout: osteomylitis
Hospital fever: see typhus.
Hydrocele: dropsy of the testicles
Hydrocephalus: enlarged head from accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid, water on the brain.
Hydropericardium: collection of fluid around the heart resulting in constriction of the heart itself.
Hydrophobia: literally a fear of water which is a symptom of rabies.
Hydrothorax: congestion of the lungs, see also dropsy.
Hysteritis: inflammation of the womb.
Icterus: see jaundice.
Imposthume: a collection of purulent matter in a bag or cyst.
Inanition: decline from inadequate nourishment; starvation.
Infantile paralysis: poliomyelitis.
Infection: long before Pasteur discovered that infections were caused by micro-organisms there was an appreciation that disease could be passed from person to person called the contagion theory. There was a competing theory that held that diseases were spread by bad smells, hence the use of scented posies to guard against plague. Both theories were inadequate but had some elements of truth in that the presence of a bad smell indicates rotting matter from which an infection might be transmitted by contaminated water or by flies to food. Other infections are passed by direct physical contact such as venereal disease and some by droplets in the air from coughs and sneezes such as pulmonary tuberculosis. See also miasma.
Inflammation: the classic definition comes from the Roman physician Celsus who described four symptoms - tumor (swelling), calor (heat), rubor (redness), and dolor (pain).
Jail fever: see typhus.
Jaundice: a yellow pigment deposited in the skin, whites of the eyes, and mucous membranes, caused by an increase of bile pigments in the blood. Synonym: icterus. A distemper from obstruction of the glands of the liver which prevents the gall from being duly separated from the blood.
Kidney stone: see gravel.
Kings evil: scrofula, a tubercular infection of the throat lymph glands. The name originated in the time of Edward the Confessor, with the belief that the disease could be cured by the touch of the king of England. A scrofulous distemper, in which the glands are ulcerated, commonly believed to be cured by the touch of a king. Dr. Johnson suffered from it as a boy and was touched for it by Queen Anne. She was the last monarch to touch for the King's evil. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the infected gland was lanced and drained. This often lead to a noticeable scar on the neck as the wound might continue to seep for a time.
La Grippe: influenza.
Lead poisoning: This was common in the 18th and 19th centuries for two reasons; workers were exposed to lead in pottery glazes and paints or other industries extracting or using the metal. In addition some lead salts were used in medicine before the dangers were appreciated. (Sugar of lead is lead acetate). Lead and its compounds cause nerve and brain damage resulting in paralysis, and mental disorders. In addition, it causes anaemia and a blue line on the gums. Analysis of a sample of Beethoven's hair in 2000 showed that he had been exposed to lead, probably from medicines. The book Purple Secret, describes the illness of George III, which is now attributed on genetic and medical evidence to porphyria. However the book does not point out the widespread use of lead in medicines of the period or describe the symptoms which ensue, some of which are similar to those seen with lead poisoning.
Leprosy: long lasting disease caused by the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae. Dr. Johnson describes it as a loathsome distemper, which covers the body with a kind of white scales.
Lethargy: a morbid drowsiness; a sleep from which one cannot be kept awake. The term appears to have had a more precise meaning in Johnson's time and would seem akin to what we would call coma.
Livergrown: having a great liver. (Possibly as a result of high alcohol consumption!)
Lockjaw: see tetanus.
Locomotor ataxia: A movement disorder caused by syphilitic infection of the spinal cord. Synonyms: tabes dorsalis.
Lues: see syphilis.
Lues venera: venereal disease
Lunatic: mad, having the imagination influenced by the moon. Dr. Johnson gives the original meaning of the term but it probably covered a range of disorders such as schizophrenia and congenital disabilities.
Lung Fever: see pneumonia
Lung Sickness: tuberculosis, see consumption.
Lupus erythematosus a chronic disease causing degeneration of connective tissue. It causes red skin lesions, inflammation of joints and lesions of the internal organs. Female sufferers have difficulty in carrying a child. Queen Anne had lupus erythematosus and although she had 17 pregnancies she had no heirs; one child lived to the age of ten.
Lupus vulgaris: A chronic tubercular infection of the skin involving soft yellow swellings, ulcers and abscesses. Synonym: common lupus.
Lying In: Refers to the period around childbirth. The process of child birth is commonly called parturition.
Malaria: a disease caused by parasitic protozoa of the genus Plasmodium, transmitted by the bites of insects such as mosquitoes. Synonyms: ague, congestive fever, marsh fever, paroxymal fever, remitting fever.
Malignant sore throat: diphtheria
Malignant fever: see typhus.
Marasmus: progressive emaciation caused by malnutrition in young children.
Measles: an infectious viral disease marked by rash of red circular spots. A critical eruption in a fever.
Melancholia: sadness or depression. Literally it means black bile; the ancient Greeks associated four personality types with body fluids - sanguine (dominant fluid blood) choleretic (bile), phelgmatic (phlegm) and melancholic (black bile).
Membranous Croup: hoarse cough, diphtheria.
Meningitis: A term in modern usage which is used for inflammation of the membranes on the surface of the brain, involving high fever, severe headache, and stiff muscles in the neck or back. Can be caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections Synonym: brain fever and cerebrospinal fever.
Menorrhagia: flooding, excessive menstrual bleeding.
Miasma: "poisonous vapours" (bad smells) that were believed to spread infection.
Miliary Fever: small pustules or vesicles on the skin, so called as they resemble millet seed.
Milk fever: from drinking infected milk, such as undulant fever or brucellosis.
Milk Leg: thrombosis of veins in the legs caused by lying in bed too long after childbirth. It leads to ulceration of the skin. Synonym: white leg, phlegmasia alba dolens.
Mortification: infection, often used for gangrene or necrosis. A state of corruption, or losing the vital qualities; gangrene.
Myelitis: literally and inflammation of a nerve.
Myocarditis: inflammation of the heart muscle (myocardium)
Naples disease: another name for syphilis.
Natural decay: death through old age is frequently shown on death certificates as natural decay. Synonym: senile decay.
Nephritis: inflammation of the kidney.
Neuralgia: pain in a sensory nerve.
Neurasthenia: neurotic condition.
Oedema: swelling caused by retention of fluid such as might occur with a weakened heart.
Opthalmitis: inflammation of the eye.
Otitis: inflammation of the ear.
Palsy: a privation of motion or feeling or both, proceeding from some cause below the cerebellum, joined with a coldness, flaccidity, and at last wasting of the parts. If affecting all the parts below the head, except the thorax and heart it is called a paraplegia, if in one side only a hemiplegia; if in some parts only on one side, a paralysis. This definition could include conditions arising from spinal injuries and stroke as well as conditions such as Bell's palsy and cerebral palsy. Shaking palsy is Parkinson's disease.
Paristhmitis: see quinsy.
Pemphigus: vesicular fever.
Pericarditis: inflammation of the pericardium, the membrane around the heart.
Peritonitis: inflammation of the peritoneal cavity in which the intestines lie.
Petechial fever: see typhus.
Phlegmasia: general term for inflammation.
Phrenitis: an inflammation of the brain.
Phthisis: see consumption.
Pink disease: disease in children caused by mercury poisoning from the use of mercury salts in teething powders.
Pleurisy or pleuritis: inflammation of the pleura, the lining of the chest cavity. Symptoms are chills, fever, dry cough, and pain in the affected side.
Pneumonia: inflammation of the lungs produced by infections such as Diplococcus pneumoniae or Klebsiella pneumonia.
Pneumonitis: inflammation of the lungs.
Podagra: gout or pain in the feet.
Potters' asthma: Workers in the pottery industry of Staffordshire were exposed to dust from dried clay and in some cases from ground flints and bone used as clay additives. They developed an inflammation of the lung similar to that of miners with silicosis.
Potts disease: tuberculosis of the spine leading to degeneration of the vertebrae.
Prostitis: inflammation of the prostate gland.
Puerperal fever: a fever arising after giving birth, also called child bed fever, caused by bacterial infection and commonly fatal until the introduction of sulphonamides and later antibiotics in the middle of the 20th century.
Purples: spots of a livid colour, which break out in malignant fevers.
Putrid fever: diphtheria
Putrid sore throat: ulceration of an acute form, attacking the tonsils, see also Quinsy.
Pyrexia: see dysentery.
Quinsy: an acute inflammation of the soft palate around the tonsils, often leading to an abscess. Synonyms: suppurative tonsillitis, cynanche tonsillaris, paristhmitis, sore throat. A tumid inflammation in the throat, which sometimes produces suffocation.
Remitting fever: malaria also called the ague.
Rising of the Lights: croup - any obstructive condition of the larynx or trachea (windpipe), characterised by a hoarse, barking cough and difficult breathing, occurring chiefly in infants and children.
Rubella: German measles.
Scarlatina: Scarlet Fever, a contagious disease caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes, which attacks the red blood cells and produces inflammation of the nose, throat and mouth, headache, sickness and red rash. Synonym: scarlet rash.
Scrofula: tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands, especially those in the neck. A disease of children and young adults. See also king's evil.
Scurvy: vitamin C deficiency disease, common on long voyages and characterised by softening of the gums, haemorrhages under the skin and general debility. It was found by the British naval surgeon, James Lind, in 1753 that it could be prevented by including citrus fruits in the diet. The practice was finally adopted by the British Navy in the 1790s. The use of limes led to British seaman being referred to as limeys. Synonym: scorbutus. An agent for treating scurvy is sometimes known as an antiscorbutic.
Shingles: a painful skin condition, commonly in older people, caused by the virus that produces chicken pox which can remain dormant in the body for many years.
Ship fever: see typhus.
Small-pox: an eruptive distemper of great malignity. Also known as variola. A viral infection producing fever and a skin rash followed by pustules which leave permanent scars. The disease was often fatal in the 18th and 19th centuries but is now believed to have been eradicated by vaccination programmes. Edward Jenner pioneered vaccination using material from cow-pox pustules in the late 18th century. Inoculation with live small pox had been used earlier in the 18th century having been introduced as a technique from the Middle East. Queen Anne died of small-pox
Softening Of The Brain: senility or general paralysis of the insane (GPI) which is tertiary syphilis. Also used for cerebral haemorrhage/stroke.
Splenitits: inflammation of the spleen.
Spotted fever: could be typhus or meningitis.
St. Anthony's Fire: see erysipelas.
St. Vitus Dance: a twitching of the limbs consequent on streptococcal infections also known as chorea Sancti Viti.
Stranguary: restricted urine flow. A difficulty of urine attended with pain. This could have included bladder stones and enlargement of the prostate. See also gravel.
Strophulus: prickly heat.
Summer complaint: see cholera infantum also dysentery or baby diarrhoea caused by spoiled milk.
Suppurating: producing pus.
Syphilis: long lasting contagious venereal disease caused by bacterium Treponema pallidum, characterised by three stages, primary, secondary and tertiary. It is infectious only in the primary phase, lasting 2 to 3 months, when it is characterised by genital sores. Dr Samuel Johnson's biographer, James Boswell, died of syphilis. Kings believed to suffer from it were Henry VIII, Charles II, James II, George II and William IV. Synonyms: French Pox, Lues, Bad Blood, Great Pox, Morbus Gallicus, Naples disease, Spanish disease. See also G.P.I. (General Paralysis of the Insane)
Tabes dorsalis: tubercular infection of the spine.
Tabes mesenterica: tubercular infection of the lymph glands in the abdomen.
Teething: Teething infants sometimes suffered infections of the gums as the teeth erupted leading to pain and swelling. If the infection became systemic, it could lead to convulsions, diarrhoea and even death. Another explanation of teething as a cause of death is that infants were often weaned at the time of teething and may have encountered contaminated milk or food. In older people tooth decay and gum disease leading to abscesses could result in septicaemia. Josiah Wedgwood, the celebrated pottery manufacturer, died from a tooth infection.
Tetanus: an infectious, often fatal disease caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, which enters the body through wounds. Synonyms: trismus, lockjaw.
Thrush: a disease in which there are white spots and ulcers in the mouth, and on the tongue, caused by a parasitic fungus, Candida albicans. There is a similar condition of the vagina. Synonyms: aphthae, sore mouth, aphthous stomatitis. Small round superficial ulcerations, which first appear in the mouth.
Trench fever: a louse borne infection characterised by headaches, inflamed eyes, skin rashes and pains in the legs. The infective agent is Rickettsia quintana.
Tuberculosis: A chronic infectious disease that can affect a variety of organs. The most common variety is pulmonary tuberculosis or consumption, passed on via droplets in coughs and sneezes. Tuberculosis of the lymph glands in the neck was called scrofula or King's Evil. The disease could be contracted through infected milk. See consumption and King's Evil.
Tympany: A kind of obstructed flatulence that swells the body like a drum.
Typhoid fever: an infectious disease producing intestinal inflammation and ulceration. It was usually encountered in the summer months. It is caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhosa. The name came from the disease's similarity to typhus (see below). Synonym: enteric fever.
Typhus: An acute, infectious disease caused by the parasite Rickettsia prowazekii, transmitted by lice and fleas. It is marked by high fever, stupor alternating with delirium, intense headache and dark red rash. The epidemic or classic form is louse borne; the endemic or murine is flea borne. Sir William Jenner, (1815-1898) , was the first physician to establish the distinct identities of typhus and typhoid fevers. Synonyms: typhus fever, malignant fever (in the 1850s), jail fever, hospital fever, ship fever, putrid fever, brain fever, bilious fever, spotted fever, petechial fever, camp fever, camp diarrhoea. The name typhus was not mentioned by Dr. Johnson; in his time it was covered among the fevers. Typhus, because it was flea borne, was often prevalent in the winter months when people were less likely to wash their clothes or indeed themselves.
Undulant fever: brucellosis, an infectious fever contracted from contaminated milk.
Varicella: Chicken pox
Variola: see smallpox
Whooping cough: see chin cough.
White leg: see milk leg.
Winter Fever: see pneumonia.
Wool sorters' disease: anthrax, a disease formerly found in farm animals that could be transmitted to man. Now rare in developed countries but common in central Asia.
Worm fever: may have been used to indicate a fever or enteritis during which worms were passed in the faeces. It is given as a cause of death of children in the early 19th century.
For modern dictionaries of medicine try the site run by Boots the Chemist which is written for patients, Medline from the US National Library of Medicine, or Stedmans Online Medical Dictionary, which is aimed at Medical Students.