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English Glossary of Causes of Death and other Archaic Medical Terms


Severe constipation caused by intestinal obstruction. [Dorland]

Obstruction of the Bowels


Example from a 1921 Death Certificate from Georgia:


The condition of being obese; increased body weight caused by excessive accumulation of fat. [Heritage]


Closure or blockage of a blood vessel: coronary occlusion. [].

An obstruction in a passageway, especially of the body. [American Heritage].

Example from an 1886 death certificate from Illinois: "Occlusion of Urethra"

Ochlotic Fever

Typhus. [A Treatise on the Continued Fevers, Wilson, 1881].


Literally, a swelling of any kind; but now confined to a swelling of a dropsical nature, situated in the cellular tissue, and commonly called watery swelling or puffing. The affection, when extensive, and accompanied with a general dropsical tendency, is termed anasarca. [Hoblyn1855]

Example from a 1930 Death Certificate from Ohio:


Infection with worms of the genus Onchocerca. Human infection is caused by O. volvulus, with heavy infestations usually characterized by the firm subcutaneous nodules called onchocercomas; a persistent dermatitis with a pruritic papular rash, sometimes associated with edema, lichenification, thickening, wrinkling, and atrophy of the skin, with areas of leukoderma; lymphadenitis; and ocular lesions, related to invasion and local death of the microfilariae (eye worms), which may progress to optic neuritis, optic atrophy, and blindness. Called also onchocercosis and volvulosis. There are many local and regional names such as craw-craw, river blindness, and sowdah. [Dorland]

Fact sheet from CDC


Paronychia. [Duglison1846].

An abscess near the nail of the finger. See Whitlow. [Hoblyn1865].


Severe, often purulent, inflammation of the deep structures of the eye. [CivilWarMed]

Oral Candidiasis

Describes a fungal (yeast) infection of the oral cavity due to Candida. It is common in infants. [CancerWEB]


Inflammation of the testicles.

Example from an 1881 Military Hospital record in Hampshire, England:

Oriental Boil / Sore

Cutaneous Leishmaniasis.  Also called Oriental boil, Delhi boil or Delhi sore. [Saunders1945]


Formation of bone Development or increase of the osseous system. Besides the natural ossification, which we observe in the fetus and in the first periods of life, there are also accidental ossifications, such as those frequently remarked, after the inflammation of serous membranes, in the parietes of arteries. [Dunglison1868]


A disease occurring mostly in adult women that results from a deficiency in vitamin D or calcium and is characterized by a softening of the bones with accompanying pain and weakness. [Heritage].

Example from an 1884 death certificate from Illinois:

Osteomyelitis Acute

A usually bacterial infection of bone and bone marrow in which the resulting inflammation can lead to a reduction of blood supply to the bone. [American heritage]

Example from a 1911 Death Certificate from Ohio:


Disease of the bony tissue, which consists in softening of its laminae, and their transformation into a fleshy substance, analogous to that of cancer; accompanied with general symptoms of cancerous affection. [Dunglison1868]


Inflammation of the internal ear. It is known by pyrexia, and an excruciating and throbbing pain in the internal ear, that is sometimes attended with delirium. [Hopper1822]

Inflammation of the mucous membrane of the ear, characterized by excruciating pain; intolerable humming in the ear, with a discharge of mucus generally from the meatus externus or from the Eustachian tube. [Dunglison1864]

Otitis Media

Acute or chronic inflammation of the middle ear especially : an acute inflammation especially in infants or young children that is caused by a virus or bacterium, usually occurs as a complication of an upper respiratory infection, and is marked by earache, fever, hearing loss, and sometimes rupture of the tympanic membrane. [Merriam-Webster].

Example from a 1921 Death Certificate from Illinois:


Drainage from the ear. [CivilWarMed]


Suffocation. Smothered by the parent or nurse in bed. [Annual report of the State Board of Health of Massachusetts, Volume 4 By Massachusetts. State Board of Health, 1873].

Example from a 1734 London, England Death Record:

Example from a 1741 Death Record from England:


A foul, stinking ulcer in the inside of the nostrils, discharging a purulent matter, and sometimes accompanied by caries of the bones. [Thomas1875]

Disease characterized by intra-nasal crusting, atrophy, and fetid odor; Chronic Rhinitis. [CivilWarMed]