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English Glossary of Causes of Death and other Archaic Medical Terms


An open sore. When a portion of animal tissue dies in consequence of an infection or injury, the death of that tissue taking place by gradual breaking down or disintegration, the process is termed ulceration and the result an ulcer. Ulcers may arise from various causes in different parts of the body, and in association with certain specific diseases, such as syphilis, tubercle, cancer and typhoid fever. [Britanniac1911].
A lesion of the skin or a mucous membrane such as the one lining the stomach or duodenum that is accompanied by formation of pus and necrosis of surrounding tissue, usually resulting from inflammation or ischemia. [Heritage].

Example from a 1734 London, England Death Record:

Decubitus Ulcer

A decubitus ulcer is a bedsore which is caused by pressure over bony areas. The most common sites for decubitus to occur are the hips, elbows and heels. [HyperBiology]

Duodenal Ulcer

One in the duodenum, one of the two most common types of peptic ulcer. [Dorland].

Example from a 1929 death certificate from New Brunswick, Canada:

Peptic Ulcer

An ulceration of the mucous membrane of the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum, caused by the action of the acid gastric juice. [Dorland]

Perforated Ulcer

An ulcer extending through the wall of an organ. [American Heritage].

Example from a 1929 Death Certificate from Illinois:

Ulcerated Sore Throat




Uremia; Urĉmia; Uremia Poisoning

A poisoned condition of the blood due to defective elimination of the elements of urine in consequence of impairment of the functional capability of the kidneys, or by their resorption in cases of retention of urine; characterized by stupor and, especially in lying-in women, by convulsions. [Appleton1904].

A toxic condition resulting from kidney disease in which there is retention in the bloodstream of waste products normally excreted in the urine. Also called azotemia. [Heritage]

Example from a 1919 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Urinary Calculus

A calculus formed in the kidney; Nephrolithiasis. [Wordnet]


Nettlerash, or Urticaria, a disorder of the skin characterized by an eruption resembling the effect produced by the sting of a nettle, namely, raised red or red and white patches occurring in parts or over the whole of the surface of the body and attended with great irritation. It may be acute or chronic. In the former variety the attack often comes on after indulgence in certain articles of diet, particularly various kinds of fruit, shellfish, cheese, pastry, &c., also occasionally from the use of certain drugs, such as henbane, copaiba, cubebs, turpentine, &c. There is at first considerable feverishness and constitutional disturbance, together with sickness and faintness, which either precede or accompany the appearance of the rash. The eruption may appear on any part of the body, but is most common on the face and trunk. The attack may pass off in a few hours, or may last for several days, the eruption continuing to come out in successive patches. The chronic variety lasts with interruptions for a length of time often extending to months or years. This form of the disease occurs independently of errors in diet, and is not attended with the feverish symptoms characterizing the acute attack. [Britannica1911].

The nettle rash, a disease characterized by a transient eruption of red pimples and of wheals, accompanied with a burning or stinging sensation and with itching; uredo. [Webster].

Example from a 1919 Death Certificate from Georgia: