No Longer Used Names for Diseases and Conditions

You May Find Them in Historical Novels or on Death Certificates

Antique pharmacy bottles
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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. Perhaps you have learned about diseases from the past in history class.

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conditions being named on a regular basis, so, too, are older names falling by the wayside, usually because they have been replaced by a newer, perhaps more accurate name (Consumption is now called Tuberculosis, Leprosy is called Hansen's Disease).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

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.

  • 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


USGenNet (genealogy) Diseases Found on Death Certificates

Rudy's List of Archaic Medical Terms

Old Disease Names from Sylvain Cazalet

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