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English Glossary of Causes of Death and other Archaic Medical Terms


Loss or impairment of the power of walking. [Appleton1904]

Ablepsy / Ablepsia

Blindness. Also an old synonym of apolepsia and epilepsy. [Appleton1904]


The expulsion of the foetus before the seventh month of utero-gestation, or before it is viable. [Dunglison1868]

Abortion, Spontaneous

Abortion occurring naturally; popularly known as miscarriage. [Dorland]


A miscarriage.

Abrachia A sort of monstrosity, consisting in the absence of arms. [Thomas1875]


Apostema. An imposthume, gathering, or boil; a collection of pus formed or deposited in some tissue or organ. [Hoblyn1855]

A collection of pus in a cavity, the result of a morbid process. [Dunglison1868].

A collection of pus or purulent matter in any tissue or organ of the body, the result of a morbid process. [Webster1913].

Example from an 1898 Cemetery record from Maine:

Cerebral Abscess

Encephalopyosis: suppuration of the brain. When accompanied with emaciation and hectic, it is called Encephalophthisis. [Dunglison1868].

Example from a 1925 death certificate from New Brunswick, Canada:

Cold Abscess

An abscess of slow formation, unattended with the pain and heat characteristic of ordinary abscesses, and lasting for years without exhibiting any tendency towards healing; a chronic abscess. [Webster1913].

Ethmoidal Abscess

Abscess. Of, relating to, or being a light spongy bone located between the orbits, forming part of the walls and septum of the superior nasal cavity, and containing numerous perforations for the passage of the fibers of the olfactory nerves. [Heritage]

Lumbar Abscess

Psoas Abscess.

Example from an 1886 death certificate from Illinois:

Metastatic Abscess

A secondary cancerous growth formed by transmission of cancerous cells from a primary growth located elsewhere in the body. [Heritage]

Psoas Abscess

Another name for lumbar abscess, the femero-coxalgie of Chaussier. [Hoblyn1855]

A wandering abscess which, originating from carious vertebra, has followed the course of the psoas muscles and points in the groin or at the sacroischiadic foramen. Occasionally the term is applied also to abscess of the psoas muscle (more properly called psoitis). [Appleton1904].

Example from a 1906 Death Certificate from Brooklyn, N.Y.:

Running Abscess

A chronic abscess.

Example from an 1891 death certificate from New Brunswick, Canada:

Subphrenic Abscess

An abscess beneath the diaphragm. [Dorland].

Subphrenic: situated or occurring bellow the diaphram. [Merriam-Webster].

Example from a 1929 Death Certificate from England:

Acephalia A form of fœtal monstrosity, consisting in the want of the head. [Thomas1875]


Absence of bile, arrest of the functions of the liver so that matters from which bile is formed accumulate in the blood producing toxemia. [Wilson1893]

Achor A small acuminated pustule, which contains a straw colored matter, and is succeeded by a thin brown yellowish scab. [Hoblyn1855]

A small pustule containing a straw colored fluid, and forming scaly eruptions about the head of young children; a species of scald-head. [Thomas1875]


An abnormal increase in the acidity of the body's fluids, caused either by accumulation of acids or by depletion of bicarbonates. [American Heritage].

An abnormal condition of reduced alkalinity of the blood and tissues that is marked by sickly sweet breath, headache, nausea and vomiting, and visual disturbances and is usually a result of excessive acid production. [Merriam Webster].

Example from a 1922 Death Certificate from Georgia:


A small pimple or tubercle on the face. [Dunglison1868]

Acne Rosacea


Acrania A species of defective development consisting in partial or total absence of the cranium. [Thomas1875]

Addison's Disease

A morbid condition causing a peculiar brownish discoloration of the skin, and thought, at one time, to be due to disease of the suprarenal capsules (two flat triangular bodies covering the upper part of the kidneys), but now known not to be dependent upon this causes exclusively. It is usually fatal. [Webster1913].

A disease caused by partial or total failure of adrenocortical function, which is characterized by a bronze like pigmentation of the skin and mucous membranes, anemia, weakness, and low blood pressure. [Heritage].

The U.S. President J.F. Kennedy is said to have had Addison disease. Named after the British physician Thomas Addison (1793-1860).When Addison first identified adrenal insufficiency in 1849, tuberculosis (TB) was responsible for 70-90% of cases. As the treatment for TB improved, the incidence of adrenal insufficiency due to TB of the adrenal glands greatly decreased. TB now accounts for around 20% of cases of primary adrenal insufficiency in developed countries. [Medicinenet]



Aden Fever


Aden Ulcer



Inflammation of a gland.


A tumor having a glandular structure. [Appleton1904]


Enlargement of a gland.

Adenomeningeal Fever

Fever, accompanied with considerable mucous secretion; especially from the digestive tube; Febris Adenomeningea. [Dunglison1868]


Enlargement of a lymph node.


Excessive accumulation of fat in the body. Also called lipomatosis, liposis. [American Heritage].

Entry from an 1857 Church Record in Münster, Switzerland

Adiposis Dolorosa

A condition of generalized obesity characterized by pain in the abnormal deposits of fat. [Merriam Webster].


Having much heat in the constitution and little serum in the blood. [Obs.] Hence: Atrabilious; sallow; gloomy. [Webster1913]


Loss of strength or vigor, usually because of disease. [Heritage]


Any existing disorder of the whole body, or part of it: as hysterics, leprosy, etc. Thus, by adding a descriptive epithet to the term affection, most distempers may be expressed. And hence we say febrile affection, cutaneous affection, etc., using the word affection synonymously with disease. [Hooper1843]

African Cachexia

A disease observed in negroes, perhaps identical with miners' Anemia. [Appleton1904]

African Fever

The malignant bilious remittent fever, which prevails on the western coast of Africa. Febris Africana. [Dunglison1868].

An intermittent, remittent, or pernicious malarial fever occurring on the African coast. [Appleton1904]

African Sleeping Sickness

African Trypanosomiasis

African Trypanosomiasis

An often fatal, endemic infectious disease of humans and animals in tropical Africa, caused by either of two trypanosomes (Trypanosoma rhodesiense or T. gambiense) transmitted by the tsetse fly and characterized by fever, severe headache, and lymph node swelling in the early stages, followed by extreme weakness, sleepiness, and deep coma. Also called African sleeping sickness. [Heritage]

Fact sheet from CDC


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


The last struggle of life against death. The series of phenomena which usually precede death, and which result from the gradual and successive abolition of functions. [Hoblyn1855]

The last struggle of life, closing in death. [Thomas1875]

Severe pain or extreme suffering. Old term for the period just before death occurs, this was thought to be a time of extreme pain. [Dorland]


A marked decrease in the number of granulocytes. Granulocytes are a type of white blood cell filled with microscopic granules that are little sacs containing enzymes that digest microorganisms. Granulocytes are part of the innate, somewhat non specific infection-fighting immune system. They do not respond exclusively to specific antigens, as do B-cells and T-cells. Agranulocytosis results in a syndrome of frequent chronic bacterial infections of the skin, lungs, throat, etc. Although "agranulocytosis" literally means no granulocytes, there may, in fact, be some granulocytes but too few of them, i.e. granulocytopenia. Agranulocytosis can be genetic and inherited or it can be acquired as, for example, an aspect of leukemia.

Example from a 1959 Funeral Home Record:


A disease of the tongue, peculiar to the Indians, in which it becomes extremely rough and chopped. [Hooper1822]

An East Indian name for a disease which occurred in Bengal and other parts of India, characterized by roughening and fissuring of the tongue, and sometimes by the development of white spots upon it. [Appleton1904]


Intermittent fever. This term appears to be derived from a Gothic word denoting trembling or shuddering. [Hoblyn1855]

Intermittent fever; often used in the same sense as chill or rigor. [Dunglison1874]

An intermittent fever, attended by alternate cold and hot fits. The interval of the paroxysms has given rise to the following varieties of ague: an interval of 24 hours constitutes a quotidian ague; of 48 hours, a tertian; of 72 hours, a quartan; of 96 hours, a quintan. [Hoblyn1900]

Malarial or intermittent fever; characterized by paroxysms consisting of chill, fever, and sweating, at regularly recurring times, and followed by an interval or intermission the length of which determines the epithets quotidian, tertian, etc. Synonyms: fever and ague; intermittent fever; periodic fever; malarial fever; marsh fever; paludal fever; miasmatic fever. [Gould1910].

Febris intermittans. A febrile condition in which there are alternating periods of chills, fever, and sweating. Used chiefly in reference to the fevers associated with malaria. Archaic term for Malarial Fever. [Dorland]

"Aigue" entered English usage in the 14th century, having crossed the channel from the Middle French "aguë". The word share the same origin as "acute." It descends from the Latin "acutus" meaning "sharp or pointed". A "fievre aigue" in French was a sharp or pointed (or acute) fever. [Medicinenet]

Example from a 1790 Death Record from England:

Ague and Fever

Intermittent Fever. [Dunglison1874].

A form of fever recurring in paroxysms which are preceded by chills. It is of malarial origin. [Webster]

Ague Cake

The popular name for a hard tumor, most probably the spleen on the left side of the belly, lower than the false ribs in the region of the spleen, said to be the effect of intermittent fevers. However frequent it might have been formerly, it is now very rare, and although then said to be owing to the use of bark, it is now less frequent since the bark has been generally employed. [Hooper1829].

Enlargement of the spleen, induced by ague, and presenting the appearance of a solid mass or cake. [Hoblyn1900]

An enlargement of the spleen produced by ague. A popular term for a hard tumor on the left side of the body. [CancerWEB]

Ague Fit

The paroxysm of ague.

Brow Ague

Rheumatic pain, felt generally just above the eyebrow. [Hoblyn1855]

Neuralgia of the brow of an intermittent character, supposed to be due to malaria. [Appleton1904]

Covent Garden Ague

Venereal disease: The Ladybird disease. He broke his shins against Covent Garden rails, he caught the disease. [Grose1823].

Covent, or Convent Garden, vulgarly called Common Garden. Anciently, the garden belonging to a dissolved monastery; now famous for being the chief market in London for fruit, flowers, and herbs. The theatres are situated near it. In its environs are many brothels, and, not long ago, the lodgings of the second order of ladies of easy virtue were either there, or in the purieus of Drury lane.

Chronic Ague

Chronic Malarial Fever

Dumb  Ague

A form of intermittent fever which has no well-defined ``chill.''  [Webster]

Face Ague

Tic douloureux. A form of neuralgia, which occurs in the nerves of the face. [Hoblyn1855]

Irish  Ague


Leaping Ague

This disease is said by the Scotch writers to be characterized by increased efficiency, but depraved direction, of the will, producing an irresistible propensity to dance, tumble, and move about in a fantastic manner, and often with far more than the natural vigor, activity, and precision. See dancing Mania. [Dunglison1855]

Spotted Ague

Epidemic Typhus


Variola Minor


The White Leprosy

Albumin Poisoning

Albumin is synthesized in the liver. Low serum levels occur in protein malnutrition, active inflammation and serious hepatic and renal disease. Nephritis. [CancerWEB]


A condition of the blood, in which the ratio of albumen is increased, as in abdominal typhus, variola, rubeola, etc. [Dunglison1874]


A condition of the urine in which it contains albumen, the presence of which is indicated by its coagulation on the application of adequate heat, nitric acid, etc. The term has been applied also to diseases characterized by such a condition of urine. Bright's disease of the Kidney. [Dunglison1874].

Example from an 1880 Physician's Report from Pennsylvania:

Aleppo Boil

Cutaneous Leishmaniasis. Also called: Aleppo Button, Aleppo Evil. [Appleton1904]


An abnormally high sensitivity to certain substances, such as pollens, foods, or microorganisms. Common indications of allergy may include sneezing, itching, and skin rashes. [Heritage]

Algid Pernicious Fever

A pernicious malarial paroxysm marked by symptoms of collapse—cold and cyanotic extremities, livid nails, clammy skin, pinched face, and thready pulse. [Stedman 1918].

Alzheimer's Disease

A progressive form of presenile dementia that is similar to senile dementia except that it usually starts in the 40s or 50s; first symptoms are impaired memory which is followed by impaired thought and speech and finally complete helplessness. [Wordnet]


Variola Minor


A term for " deprivation of sight," limited chiefly to those forms of defect or loss of vision which are caused by diseases not directly involving the eye. [Britannica1911].

Total loss of vision, especially when occurring without pathological changes to the eye. [Heritage]



Ambustio Onis

Scalds and Burns


Infection with any of various amebae. It is an asymptomatic carrier state in most individuals, but diseases ranging from chronic, mild diarrhoea to fulminant dysentery may occur. [CancerWEB]

Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health


Congenital absence of an arm or leg. [Wordnet]


Mental retardation.


Partial or total loss of memory, usually resulting from shock, psychological disturbance, brain injury, or illness. [Heritage]


Defective hematosis or preparation of the blood. Anemia. [Dunglison1874]


The anasarca generally begins with a swelling of the feet and ankles towards night, which for some time, disappears in the morning. In the evening the parts, if pressed with the finger, will pit. The swelling gradually ascends, and occupies the trunk of the body, the arms, and the head. Afterwards the breathing becomes difficult, the urine is in small quantity, and the thirst great; the body is bound, and the perspiration is greatly obstructed. To these succeed torpor, heaviness, a slow wasting fever, and a troublesome cough. This last is generally a fatal symptom, as it shows that the lungs are affected. [Buchan1785].

Dropsy of the subcutaneous cellular tissue; an effusion of serum into the cellular substance, occasioning a soft, pale, inelastic swelling of the skin. [Webster1913].

An accumulation of serous fluid in various tissues and cavities of the body. [Heritage].

Example from an 1867 Death Record from Scotland:

Anchylosis / Ankylosis

Stiffness or fixation of a joint; formation of a stiff joint. [Webster1913]


A small ulcerous swelling, coming suddenly; also, a whitlow [Webster]

Anemia / Anĉmia

The condition of having less than the normal number of red blood cells or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. [Medicinenet]

Fact sheet from CDC

Aplastic Anemia

Any of a diverse group of anemias characterized by bone marrow failure with reduction of hematopoietic cells and their replacement by fat, resulting in pancytopenia, often accompanied by granulocytopenia and thrombocytopenia. It may be hereditary; it may be secondary to causes such as toxic, radiant, or immunologic injury to bone marrow stem cells or their microenvironment; it may be associated with various diseases; or it may be idiopathic. [Dorland]

Example from a 1943 Death Certificate from Ohio:

Malignant Anemia

Pernicious Anemia

Pernicious Anemia

A severe form of anemia most often affecting older adults, caused by failure of the stomach to absorb vitamin B12 and characterized by abnormally large red blood cells, gastrointestinal disturbances, and lesions of the spinal cord. Also called Addison's anemia, malignant anemia. [Stedman]

A chronic progressive anemia of older adults; thought to result from a lack of intrinsic factor (a substance secreted by the stomach that is responsible for the absorption of vitamin B-12). [Wordnet].

Example from a 1919 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Splenic Anemia

Banti's Syndrome

Malignant Anemia

Pernicious Anemia

Anencephaly / Anencephalic

Congenital absence of most of the brain and spinal cord. [Heritage].

Example from a 1927 death certificate from New Brunswick, Canada:

Aneurism / Aneurysm

A localized, pathological, blood-filled dilatation of a blood vessel caused by a disease or weakening of the vessel's wall. [Heritage]


Sense of suffocation; applied to diseases in which this is a prominent symptom; also to various affections of the throat. [Hoblyn1855]

Any inflammatory affection of the throat or faces, as the quinsy, malignant sore throat, croup, etc., especially such as tends to produce suffocation, choking, or shortness of breath. [Dorland]

Example from an 1864 Church Record from Slovakia:

Angina Diphtheritica

An obsolete term for diphtheria involving the pharynx or larynx. [CancerWEB]

Angina Maligna

Malignant sore throat. [Hoblyn1855]


Angina Parotidĉa

The Mumps. Cynanche Parotidĉa. [Dunglison 1874].

Example from an 1843 Münster, Switzerland Church Death Record:

Angina Scarlatinosa

An obsolete term for sore throat of scarlet fever. [CancerWEB]

Angina Simplex

An acute inflammation of the mucous membrane of the pharynx, and sometimes of the entire pharyngeal structure. [Thomas1907]

Angina Suffocativa

The Croup

Angina Tonsillaris

Sore throat. [Hoblyn1855]


Angina Trachealis

Tracheitis; croup, or inflammation of the Traches. [Hoblyn1855]

The Croup

Hogskin Angina



Of or like a feeble old woman. [Wordnet]

Animal Disease

A disease that typically does not affect human beings. [Wordnet]


An abnormal condition due to deficient aeration of the blood, as in balloon sickness, mountain sickness. [Webster1913]


The Mumps


Inflammation of the Aorta.


Inability to produce speech sounds. Often due to a disease of the voice producing structures. Laryngitis. [CancerWEB]

Aphtha (Aphthae)

Small whitish ulcers appearing in the mouth. [Buchan1798]

The thrush, sprue; a form of sore mouth occurring mostly in infants, characterized by whitish patches, which may become confluent and give rise to ulceration, and occasionally extend into the œsophagus, consisting of epithelial scales together with the spores, and filaments of a vegetable organism, the Oidium albicans. [Appleton1904]

Roundish pearl-colored specks or flakes in the mouth, on the lips, etc., terminating in white sloughs. They are commonly characteristic of thrush. [Webster].

Example from an 1885 death certificate from Illinois:


Pertaining to, resembling, or affected with aphtha.. [Appleton1904]

Pertaining to, or caused by, aphth[ae]; characterized by apht[ae]; as, aphthous ulcers; aphthous fever. [Webster].

Example from an 1852 Pennsylvania Physicians' Return of Death:


Temporary absence or cessation of breathing. [Heritage].

Example from an 1885 death certificate from Canada:


An abscess; a swelling filled with purulent matter. [Written corruptly {imposthume}.  [Webster1913]


Inflammation of the vermiform appendix. [Dorland].

Example from a 1921 Death Certificate from Georgia:


Arachnoiditis. Inflammation of the Arachnoid. A variety of Phrenitis. [Dunglison1874]


Is a group of conditions that affect the health of the bone joints in the body. Arthritic diseases include rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, which are autoimmune diseases; septic arthritis, caused by joint infection; and the more common osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease. Unlike the autoimmune diseases, osteoarthritis largely affects older people and results from the degeneration of joint cartilage. Arthritis may also be caused by gout. [Wikipedia].

"arthritis" was first used: 1543. [Webster]

Fact sheet from CDC
Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health

Arthritis Deformans

A chronic arthritis marked by deformation of affected joints. [Merriam Webster].

Rheumatoid Arthritis. [Random House].

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

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis. A chronic autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of the joints, frequently accompanied by marked deformities, and ordinarily associated with manifestations of a general, or systemic, affliction. [Random House].

A chronic disease marked by stiffness and inflammation of the joints, weakness, loss of mobility, and deformity. [Heritage].

Example from a 1926 death certificate from New Brunswick, Canada:




A genus of intestinal worms, characterized by a long, cylindrical body, extenuated at the extremities, and having a mouth furnished with three tubercles, from which a very short tube is sometimes seen issuing. [Dunglison1874]

Fact sheet from CDC

Ascaris Lumbricoides

Intestinal parasite of humans and pigs; Roundworm. [Wordnet]


A collection of serous fluid in the abdomen. Ascites proper is dropsy of the peritoneum; and is characterized by increased size of the abdomen, by fluctuation, and general signs of dropsy. It is rarely a primary disease; but is always dangerous. Dropsy of the lower belly. [Dunglison1874].

Example from an 1828 death certificate from Pennsylvania:


The extreme condition caused by lack of oxygen and excess of carbon dioxide in the blood, produced by interference with respiration or insufficient oxygen in the air; suffocation. [].

A condition in which an extreme decrease in the concentration of oxygen in the body accompanied by an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide leads to loss of consciousness or death. Asphyxia can be induced by choking, drowning, electric shock, injury, or the inhalation of toxic gases. [American Heritage].

Example from a 1922 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Asphyxia Pallida

Globus Pallidus - The inner and lighter gray portion of the lentiform nucleus of the brain. Also called pallidum. [Merriam-Webster].

Example from a 1924 death certificate from Georgia:

Assam Fever

Visceral Leishmaniasis


Want or loss of strength; debility; diminution of the vital forces. [Webster 1913].

Lack or loss of strength; weakness. [].


A disease, characterized by difficulty of breathing (due to a spasmodic contraction of the bronchi), recurring at intervals, accompanied with a wheezing sound, a sense of constriction in the chest, a cough, and expectoration. [Webster1913].

A chronic respiratory disease, often arising from allergies, that is characterized by sudden recurring attacks of labored breathing, chest constriction, and coughing. [Heritage].

"asthma" was first used: 14th century. [Webster]

Fact sheet from CDC
Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health

Example from a 1734 Death Record from England:

Example from an 1826 death certificate from Pennsylvania:

Example from a Mecklenburg, Germany Church Death Record:

Bronchial Asthma

Respiratory disorder characterized by wheezing; usually of allergic origin [syn: asthma, asthma attack]. [Wordnet].

Example from a 1922 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Marine Asthma

Beri Beri. [Appleton1904].

Asthma Thymicum

A disease of infants, characterized by suspension of respiration at intervals; great difficulty of breathing, with crowing inspiration, especially on waking, swallowing, or crying; ending often in a fit of suffocation, with convulsions. These symptoms are often accompanied by rigidity of the fingers and toes; the thumb being frequently drawn forcibly into the palm of the clenched hand, whence the name Carpopedal spasm, applied to the disease. [Dunglison 1874].

Example from an 1854 Münster, Switzerland Church Death Record:


Ataxie. Disorder, Irregularity. Ataxia, now, usually means the state of disorder that characterizes nervous fevers, and the nervous condition. [Dunglison1874]

Ataxic Fever

Malignant Typhus fever.

Ataxic: lacking motor coordination; marked or caused by ataxia. [Wordnet]


Total or partial collapse of the lung. also, a congenital condition characterized by the incomplete expansion of the lungs at birth. [American Heritage].

Collapse of an expanded lung (especially in infants); also failure of pulmonary alveoli to expand at birth. [Wordnet].

Example from a 1921 Death Certificate from Georgia:


Any morbid deposit resembling the contents of a wen. It is often applied to atheromatous degeneration of an artery. [Appleton1904].

(a) An encysted tumor containing curdy matter. (b) A disease characterized by thickening and fatty degeneration of the inner coat of the arteries. [Webster1913].

A deposit or degenerative accumulation of lipid-containing plaques on the innermost layer of the wall of an artery. [Heritage]


A variety of chorea, marked by peculiar tremors of the fingers and toes. [Webster]


Profound debility of children due to lack of food and to unhygienic surroundings. [Webster].

Marasmus. [Merriam Webster].

Example from a 1922 Death Certificate from Georgia:


Defect of nutrition; wasting or emaciation with loss of strength, unaccompanied by fever. [Thomas1875]

A wasting or decrease in size of a body organ, tissue, or part owing to disease, injury, or lack of use; Marasmus. [Heritage]


A peculiar sensation felt by the patient immediately preceding an epileptic attack; it may be a paresthesia in the epigastric region or in the hand or leg ascending to the head, noises in the ears, flashes of light, vertigo, etc.; it is called auditory, epigastric, vertiginous, etc., according to its seat or nature. [Stedman 1918].



Autumn / Autumnal Fever

Autumnal Fever generally assumes a bilious aspect. Those of the intermittent kind are much more obstinate than when they appear in the spring. [Dunglison1868].

A fever that prevails largely in autumn, such as typhoid, typhomalarial, and malarial fevers. [Appleton1904].

Example from an 1890 death certificate from New Brunswick, Canada:

Axes Intermittent, Paroxysm. [Dunglison1874].

The ague, generally fits or attacks.