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English Glossary of Causes of Death and other Archaic Medical Terms

Dancing Mania

Dancing plague. A form of convulsions, which has appeared, at various times, epidemically under the form of St. Vitus's dance, St. John's dance, Tarantism, Hysteria, Tigretier (in Abyssinia), and diseased sympathy. [Dunglison1855]

Dandy Fever


Day Fever Fever that is apparent in daytime (Most fevers come in the evening or night.) Day fevers are generally acute.


Lying down; assuming the horizontal posture. Also bedsore. [Dunglison 1903].

Gangrenous Decubitus

Decubitus, Bed Sore, Pressure Gangrene.

Example from an 1843 Church Record from Steig, Switzerland:


An affliction in which some part of the body is misshapen or malformed. [Wordnet]


Suffering from excessive loss of water from the body; "fever resulted from becoming dehydrated". [Wordnet]

Delhi Boil

A cutaneous disease of obscure character occurring in India, sometimes as an epidemic. It is said to begin in the form of itching red spots on exposed situations, such as the face, hands, feet, elbows, ankles, etc. On the red spots smooth, shiny papules appear, which coalesce and undergo ulceration, the ulcerated surface being "red, flabby, and irregular, and studded over by fungoid granulations that bleed freely" and are followed by cicatrices. Also called: Delhi sore, Oriental sore, Scinde boil, Lahore boil, Moultan sore, [Appleton1904].

Cutaneous Leishmaniasis. [Saunders1945].

Delirium / Delirious

A temporary disorder of the mental faculties. [Buchan1798]

A symptom consisting in being fitful and wandering in talk. [Thomas1875]

State of violent mental agitation. [Wordnet]


Want of intellect; a species of insanity. [Thomas1875]

Insanity; madness; esp. that form which consists in weakness or total loss of thought and reason; mental imbecility; idiocy. [Webster1913]

1. Deterioration of intellectual faculties, such as memory, concentration, and judgment, resulting from an organic disease or a disorder of the brain. It is sometimes accompanied by emotional disturbance and personality changes. 2. Madness; insanity. [American Heritage].

Dementia Apoplectica

Alteration and diminution of the mental faculties due to cerebral lesions, such as hemorrhage, softening, or tumors; typical in most cases of softening of the brain. [Appleton 1904]

Dementia Paralytica

see General paralysis of the insane and general paresis of the insane. [Appleton 1904].

General paresis. [Merriam-Webster]

Example from an 1923 Death Certificate from England:

Dementia Praecox /Prcox

Schizophrenia: a mental condition characterized by disorder of the association process. By some the term is used as synonymous with dementia prcox. [The American Illustrated Medical Dictionary, Dorland, 1922].

Example from an 1930 Death Certificate from Ohio:

Dengue /Fever

A fever of America, characterized by sharp pains down the thighs and legs, and general soreness of the flesh and bones. [Thomas1875]

A specific epidemic disease attended with high fever, cutaneous eruption, and severe pains in the head and limbs, resembling those of rheumatism; -- called also {breakbone fever}. It occurs in India, Egypt, the West Indies, etc., is of short duration, and rarely fatal. Note: This disease, when it first appeared in the British West India Islands, was called the dandy fever, from the stiffness and constraint which it grave to the limbs and body. The Spaniards of the neighboring islands mistook the term for their word dengue, denoting prudery, which might also well express stiffness, and hence the term dengue became, as last, the name of the disease. --Tully. [Webster1913]

Fact sheet from CDC
Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health
Fact sheet from WHO
Example from a 1922 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Mediterranean Dengue

Sandfly Fever


A disease of the eyelids, attended with loss of the eyelashes. [Webster]


A state of depression and anhedonia so severe as to require clinical intervention (syn: depressive disorder, clinical depression) [Wordnet].

Anhedonia: The absence of pleasure or the ability to experience it. [Heritage]



Example from an 1890 death record from Michigan:

Derbyshire Neck

Another name for bronchocele. [Thomas1875]


An inflammation of the skin. Itching and redness are the basic symptoms of dermatitis, which has a variety of causes, including allergies and exposure of the skin to irritants, such as chemicals or sunlight. [American Heritage].

Dermatitis Exfoliativa

Inflammation of the skin accompanied with excessive desquamation. [Dunglison 1874].

Example from a 1928 death certificate from New Brunswick, Canada:


An immoderate or morbid flow of urine. It is termed insipidus ("tasteless") where the urine retains its usual taste, and mellitus ("honeyed") where the saccharine state is the characteristic symptom. [Thomas1875]

A disease which is attended with a persistent, excessive discharge of urine. Most frequently the urine is not only increased in quantity, but contains saccharine matter, in which case the disease is generally fatal. [Webster]

Diabetes is first recorded in English, in the form diabete, in a medical text written around 1425. [Heritage]

Fact sheet from CDC

Example from an 1884 death certificate from Illinois:

Example from a 1932 Kansas death certificate:

Diabetes Insipidus

The form of diabetes in which the urine contains no abnormal constituent. [Webster].

Example from a 1924 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Diabetes Mellitus

That form of diabetes in which the urine contains saccharine matter. [Webster]

 1. A severe, chronic form of diabetes caused by insufficient production of insulin and resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The disease, which typically appears in childhood or adolescence, is characterized by increased sugar levels in the blood and urine, excessive thirst, frequent urination, acidosis, and wasting. Type 1 diabetes.

2. A mild form of diabetes that typically appears first in adulthood and is exacerbated by obesity and an inactive lifestyle. This disease often has no symptoms, is usually diagnosed by tests that indicate glucose intolerance, and is treated with changes in diet and an exercise regimen. Type 2 diabetes. [Heritage]

Fact sheet from WHO

Example from an 1828 death certificate from Pennsylvania:

Example from a 1940 Death Certificate from Louisiana:

Bronze Diabetes

A genetic disease in which the body takes in too much iron from food, this causes excess iron to be deposited in the liver and heart and other organs, eventually leading to organ failure and death. [CancerWEB]

Sugar Diabetes

Insulin-dependent diabetes; diabetes mellitus. [American Heritage].

Example from an 1897 death record from Michigan:


Excessive and frequent evacuation of watery feces, usually indicating gastrointestinal distress or disorder. [Heritage]

Example from an 1850 Mortality Schedule from Chicago:

Camp Diarrhea

Epidemic Typhus

Colliquative Diarrhea

Colliquative - An epithet given to various discharges, which produce rapid exhaustion. Hence we say, colliquative sweats, colliquative diarrhea, etc. [Dunglison1868]

Example from an 1880Physician's Certificate from Pennsylvania

Inflammatory Diarrhea

A form of diarrhea, either acute or chronic, produced by increased vascularity of the entire intestinal mucous membrane, the same cause also acting to obstruct the discharge of fluids through the skin, characterized by febrile reaction and mucous, mucropurulent, or mucosanguineous evacuations. In infants it constitutes a common form of so-called cholera infantum. [Appleton1904]

Diary Fever

Fever that lasts only one day; Ephemera. [Dunglison1868]


A hereditary predisposition of the body to a disease, a group of diseases, an allergy, or another disorder. [Heritage]


Dengue Fever

Diphtheria / Diphtheritis

Diphtheria, as at present understood, may be defined as sore throat in which the bacillus is found; if it cannot be found, the illness is regarded as something else, unless the clinical symptoms are quite unmistakable. One result of this is a large transference. of registered mortality from other throat affections, and particularly from croup, to diphtheria. Croup, which never had, a well defined application, and is not recognized by the College of Physicians as a synonym for diphtheria, appears to be dying out from the medical vocabulary in Great Britain. In France the distinction has never been recognized. [Britannica1911].
Cynanche Maligna. A very dangerous contagious disease in which the air passages, and especially the throat, become coated with a false membrane, produced by the solidification of an inflammatory exudation. [Webster1913].
An acute infectious disease caused by the bacillus Corynebacterium diphtheriae, characterized by the production of a systemic toxin and the formation of a false membrane on the lining of the mucous membrane of the throat and other respiratory passages, causing difficulty in breathing, high fever, and weakness. The toxin is particularly harmful to the tissues of the heart and central nervous system. [Heritage].
"diphtheria" was first used: 1857 in France by a physician Pierre Bretonneau from the Greek expression "diphthera" meaning "hide". [Webster]
Fact sheet from WHO
Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health
Information Card from the CDC

Example from an 1859 death certificate from West Virginia:

Example from a Church in New York:

Laryngeal Diphtheria

An inflammation of the larynx, characterized anatomically by the formation of a false membrane; clinically, by a shrill, piping respiration, dry, metallic cough, the voice sinking to a whisper. [Thomas1907].

Laryngeal diphtheria, which involves the voice box or larynx, is the form most likely to produce serious complications. The fever is usually higher in this form of diphtheria (103104F or 39.440C) and the patient is very weak. Patients may have a severe cough, have difficulty breathing, or lose their voice completely. The development of a "bull neck" indicates a high level of exotoxin in the bloodstream. Obstruction of the airway may result in respiratory compromise and death. [Medical Encyclopedia].

Example from a 1919 Death Certificate from Ohio:


The condition of being disabled; incapacity; Weakness. [Heritage]


A pathological condition of a part, organ, or system of an organism resulting from various causes, such as infection, genetic defect, or environmental stress, and characterized by an identifiable group of signs or symptoms. [Heritage]


A disease, especially an infectious disease. Also, a disease of animals that resembles scarlet fever. [Appleton1904].

Example from a 1734 London, England Death Record:



A disease, especially an infectious disease. Also, a disease of animals that resembles scarlet fever. [Appleton1904].



French Distemper


Lousy Distemper


Dog Bark

Whooping Cough

Down's Syndrome

A congenital disorder, caused by the presence of an extra 21st chromosome, in which the affected person has mild to moderate mental retardation, short stature, and a flattened facial profile. Also called trisomy 21. [Heritage]


The dropsy is a preternatural swelling of the whole body, or some part of it, occasioned by a collection of watery humour. It is distinguished by different names, according to the part affected, as the anasarca, or a collection of water under the skin; the ascites, or a collection of water in the belly; the hydrops pectoris, or dropsy of the breast; the hydrocephalus, or dropsy of the brain, &c. [Buchan1785].

A collection of a serous fluid in the cellular membrane; in the viscera and the circumscribed cavities of the body. [Hooper1829].

Hydrops. [Dunglison1868]

Morbid serous effusion into any of the cavities; a sequel of many chronic diseases, particularly those of the kidneys. [Cleaveland1871]

Hydropsy. [Hoblyn1900]

Archaic word for Edema.

"dropsy" was first used in popular English literature: sometime before 1321. [Webster]

Example from a 1734 London, England Death Record:

Abdominal Dropsy


Dropsy of the Belly

Ascites. [Hooper1829]

Dropsy of the lower Belly

Ascites. [Dunglison1846]

Dropsy of the Bladder

A somewhat rare condition which may follow the obliteration of the cystic duct; due to distention of the gall bladder with the secretion of the mucous glands and with epithelium. [Appleton1904]

Dropsy of the Bowels


Dropsy of the Brain

Hydrocephalus. [Hooper1829].

Example from an 1828 death certificate from Pennsylvania:

Example from an 1850 Mortality Schedule from Chicago:

Dry Dropsy

An absurd term for Typanites. [Thomas1875]

Dropsy of the Cellular Membrane

Anasarca. [Dunglison1846]

Dropsy of the Chest

Hydrothorax. [Hooper1829]

Example from an 1856 death certificate from West Virginia:

Dropsy of the Eye

Hydrophthalmia. [Dunglison1846]

Fibrinous Dropsy

Dropsy in which the effused fluid contains fibrin. [Dunglison1868]

Dropsy of the Flesh

Anasarca. [Thomas1885]

General Dropsy

Anasarca. [Dunglison1846]

Example from an 1895 death certificate from West Virginia:

Dropsy of the Head

Hydrocephalus. [Dunglison1846]

Hepatic Dropsy

Dropsy, dependant on disease of the liver. [Dunglison1874]

Dropsy of the Joints

Hydrops articuli. [Thomas1885]

Ovarian Dropsy

Hydroarion. [Dunglison1868]

Dropsy of the Ovary

Ascites. [Hooper1829]

Dropsy of the Peritoneum

Ascites. [Dunglison1846]

Dropsy of the Pleura

Hydrothorax. [Dunglison1846]

Renal Dropsy

Dropsy, dependant on disease of the kidney. [Dunglison1874]

Dropsy of the Skin

Anasarca. [Hooper1829]

Dropsy of the Spine

Hydrorachitis. [Thomas1885]

Dropsy of the Stomach


Dropsy of the Testicle

Hydrocele. [Hooper1829]

Dropsy of the Uterus

Hydrometra. [Thomas1885]

Wet Dropsy

Wet Beriberi

Wind Dropsy

Emphysema. [Dunglison1846]

Tympanites. [Dunglison1868]

A name sometimes applied to emphysema. [Thomas1875]

Dropsy of the Womb

Hydrometra. [Dunglison1846]

Example from an 1855 death certificate from West Virginia:


Hydrops (provincial). [Dunglison1868]

Drum Belly


Drury Lane Ague

A venereal disease; see Ladies' Fever. [Farmer1905].

Dry Mouth



Framboesia. [Dunglison1868].

An epidemic disease resembling yaws was observed in the Fiji Islands by the medical officers of the United States' Exploring Expedition. It is called by the natives Dthoke. [Dunglison1874]

Duchenne's Disease

Tabes Dorsalis

Occlusion of the Ductus

An obstruction or a closure of a passageway or vessel. [Heritage]

Dukes Disease

A mild exanthematous disease of childhood resembling scarlatina. Also called Fourth disease, Scarlatinella. [Heritage].

The fourth disease after scarlatina, rubella, and morbilli. An infectious disease of early childhood resembling scarlet fever and German measles, usually occurring during the spring or summer. It is characterized by an exanthematous skin eruption associated with slight fever, following an incubation period of 10 to 15. Mostly sporadic, occasionally limited. High temperature - 39,5-40C - lasting 3 to 4 days without systemic symptoms, except in some cases with convulsions. It is not considered an etiological entity, and the term is no longer used. [Whonamedit]

Dumb Chill

Dumb Ague

Dumdum Fever

Visceral Leishmaniasis. Kala Azar. [Stedman 1918].


Dengue Fever


Inflammation of the duodenum, characterized by white tongue, bitter taste, anorexia, fullness and tenderness in the region of the duodenum, and often yellowness of skin, along with the ordinary signs of febrile irritation. [Dunglison1874]

Dyscrasia / Dyscrasy

A bad habit of body. [Dunglison1868].

A faulty state of the constitution. [Thomas1875].

A depraved state of the system, especially of the blood, due to constitutional disease. [Appleton1904].

An abnormal bodily condition, especially of the blood. [Heritage]

Dysentery / Dysentaria

Inflammation of the mucous membrane of the large intestine; the chief symptoms of which are: fever, more or less inflammatory, with frequent mucous or bloody evacuations; violent tormina and tenesmus. It occurs, particularly, during the summer and autumnal months, and in hot climates more than cold: frequently, also, in camps and prisons, in consequence of impure air and imperfect nourishment. [Dunglison1874].

 A disease attended with inflammation and ulceration of the colon and rectum, and characterized by griping pains, constant desire to evacuate the bowels, and the discharge of mucus and blood. Note: When acute, dysentery is usually accompanied with high fevers. It occurs epidemically, and is believed to be communicable through the medium of the alvine discharges. [Webster1913].

 An inflammatory disorder of the lower intestinal tract, usually caused by a bacterial, parasitic, or protozoan infection and resulting in pain, fever, and severe diarrhea, often accompanied by the passage of blood and mucus. [Heritage].

"dysentery" was first used in popular English literature: sometime before 1588. [Webster]

Example from an 1850 Mortality Schedule from Chicago:

Amebic Dysentery

Dysentery resulting from ulcerative inflammation of the bowel, caused chiefly by infection with entamoeba histolytica. This condition may be associated with amebic infection of the liver and other distant sites. [CancerWEB]

Bacillary Dysentery

An infectious disease caused by bacteria of the genus shigella. This condition is characterized by intestinal pain and diarrhea. [CancerWEB].

Shigellosis. Any of various severe infections of the colon caused by microorganisms, especially of the genus Shigella, that result in abdominal cramping, fever, and passage of blood-stained stools or of material consisting of blood and mucus. [American Heritage].

Example from a 1919 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Bloody Dysentery


Example from an 1869death record from Michigan:

Catarrhal Dysentery


Travelers Dysentery

Amebic Dysentery


Painful menstruation.


Impaired or deranged appetite. [Dorland]

Dyspepsia / Dyspepsy

A disorder of digestive function characterized by discomfort or heartburn or nausea. [Wordnet].

Example from an 1858 death certificate from West Virginia:


Difficulty in swallowing or inability to swallow. Also called aglutition, aphagia, odynophagia. [American Heritage]


Breathlessness or shortness of breath; difficult or labored breathing. [Dorland]

Dysuria / Dysury

Painful or difficult urination. [Dorland]