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English Glossary of Causes of Death and other Archaic Medical Terms


Boiling. This consists in the change which a fluid undergoes from a state of liquidity to that of an elastic fluid, in consequence of the application of heat, which dilates and converts it into vapour. [Hooper1843].

Ebullition is used in France, in a vague manner, for every kind of transient eruption of the skin, occurring without fever or with a slight febrile attack. [Dunglison1874].

Eclampsia / Eclampsy

Convulsive motions, especially of the mouth, eyelids, and fingers, so excessively rapid that it is often difficult to follow. [Hoblyn1855].

A convulsive disease of infancy; also, epilepsy, and the appearance of flashes of light, forming one of its symptoms. Sometimes applied to a form of puerperal convulsions resembling epilepsy in severity. [Thomas1875].

A fancied perception of flashes of light, a symptom of epilepsy; hence, epilepsy itself; convulsions. Note: The term is generally restricted to a convulsive affection attending pregnancy and parturition, and to infantile convulsions. [Webster1913].

Coma and convulsions during or immediately after pregnancy, characterized by edema, hypertension, and proteinuria. [Heritage].

Example from an 1844 Church Record in Münster, Switzerland

Eclampsia Infantum

Infantile convulsions. See Eclampsia.

Example from a 1915 Death Certificate from Massachusetts:


A term applied to a morbid mental condition, in which the mind is entirely absorbed in the contemplation of one dominant idea or object, and loses for the time its normal self control. With this there is commonly associated the prevalence of some strong emotion, which manifests itself in various ways, and with varying degrees of intensity. This state resembles in many points that of catalepsy (q.v.), but differs from it sufficiently to constitute it a separate affection. The patient in ecstasy may lie in a fixed position like the cataleptic, apparently quite unconscious, yet, on awaking, there is a distinct recollection of visions perceived during this period. More frequently there is violent emotional excitement which may find expression in impassioned utterances, and in extravagant bodily movements and gesticulations. Ecstasy usually presents itself as a kind of temporary religious insanity, and has frequently appeared as an epidemic. It is well illustrated in the celebrated examples of the dancing epidemics of Germany and Italy in the middle ages, and the Convulsionnaires of St Medard at the grave of the Abb Paris in the early part of the 18th century, and in more recent times has been witnessed during periods of religious revivalism. [Britannica1911]


A smarting eruption of small pustules, generally crowded together, without fever, and not contagious. [Thomas1875]

A noncontagious inflammation of the skin, characterized chiefly by redness, itching, and the outbreak of lesions that may discharge serous matter and become encrusted and scaly. [Dorland].

Example from an 1890 death certificate from West Virginia:

Infantile Eczema

Atopic Dermatitis


An excessive accumulation of serous fluid in tissue spaces or a body cavity; Dropsy; Hydrops. [Heritage]

Cerebral Edema

Excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain substance; causes include trauma, tumor, and increased permeability of capillaries as a result of anoxia or exposure to toxic substances. [Dorland]

Edema of the Chest


Edema of the Larynx

Edematous Laryngitis

Edema of the Lungs

Pulmonary Congestion

Pulmonary Edema


Example from a 1919 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Edematous Laryngitis

An infiltration of the mucous membrane of the larynx with serum, usually due to inflammation. [Thomas1907]


(contracted from evil) Ill; Eel thing; ill thing; St. Anthony's fire. Exmoor. Somerset. [Holloway1840].

Ill, or Evil. Any local affection of the flesh has this word generally suffixed - as Poll ill, udder ill, breast ill, quarter ill. [Elworthy1875]

Eel Thing

St. Anthony's Fire. Essex. [Wright1857].

(Evil Thing) Erysipelas, St. Anthony's Fire. [Elworthy1875]


The pouring out of blood or of any other fluid into the cellular membrane, or into the cavities of the body. The effusion of serum or of coagulable lymph, e.g. is a common result of inflammation of serous membranes. [Dunglison 1846].

Example from an 1880 death certificate from England:

Effusion on the Brain

The escape of a fluid out of its natural vessel or viscous into another part. Also, the secretion of fluids from the vessels, as of lymph or serum, on different surfaces. [Hoblyn 1855].

The seeping of serous, purulent, or bloody fluid into a body cavity or tissue. [American Heritage].

Example from an 1855 death certificate from England:


A usually invisible emanation or exhalation, as of vapor or gas.; Miasma. [Heritage].

Exhalations or emanations, applied especially to those of noxious character. In the mid-nineteenth century, they were called "vapours" and distinguished into the contagious effluvia, such as rubeola (measles); marsh effluvia, such as miasmata; and those arising from animals or vegetables, such as odors. [NGSQ1988]


Abortion when it occurs prior to three months. [Dunglison1868]

The Egyptian Inheritance


Egyptian Ophthalmia

An epidemic and contagious variety of Ophthalmia. [Dunglison1868].

Purulent conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis Egyptiaca; so called because of its prevalence in Egypt and northern Africa. [Appleton1904]

El Tor

Cholera epidemic of 1961 originating in the Celebes Islands in the Philippines. [Cartwright]


So named from the legs of people affected with this disorder growing scaly, rough and wonderfully large, at an advanced period, like the legs of an elephant. [Hooper1843].

A disease of the skin, in which it becomes enormously thickened, and is rough, hard, and fissured, like an elephant's hide. [Webster1913].

Hypertrophy of certain body parts (usually legs and scrotum); the end state of the disease filariasis. [Wordnet].

Elephantiasis Arabum A disease characterized by the leg being much swollen and misshapen, and thus supposed to resemble that of an elephant. [Thomas1875]

Elephantiasis Grĉcorum

An affection nearly allied to leprosy, if not the same disease. It is said to be characterized by shining tubercles on the face, ears, and extremities, with a thickened, rugous state of the skin, whence it has been termed Elephant skin. [Thomas1875]

Leprosy. [Thomas1907]


Marasmus. General extenuation of the body, with debility. [Hoblyn1855]

Excessive leanness; a wasted condition of the body. [Dorland]

Embolism / Embolia

The sudden blocking of an artery by a clot or foreign material which has been brought to its site of lodgment by the blood current. [Dorland].

In medicine, an embolism (plural embolisms) occurs when an object (the embolus, plural emboli migrates from one part of the body (through circulation) and causes a blockage (occlusion) of a blood vessel in another part of the body. The term was coined in 1848 by Rudolph Carl Virchow.[1] This is in contrast with a thrombus, or clot, which forms at the blockage point within a blood vessel and is not carried from somewhere else. [Wikipedia].

"Cardiac Embolism" - Example from a 1930 death certificate from Ohio:

"Pulmonary Embolism" - Example from a 1919 death certificate from Ohio:




The act of vomiting. [Heritage]




A pathological accumulation of air in tissues or organs. [Dorland].

Example from an 1889 Infirmary Death Record from England:

Emphysema of the Lungs

Pulmonary Emphysema

Pulmonary Emphysema

A common disease of the lungs in which the air cells are distended and their partition walls ruptured by an abnormal pressure of the air contained in them. [Webster].

A chronic irreversible disease of the lungs, characterized by abnormal of air spaces in the lungs and accompanied by destruction of the tissue lining the walls of the air sacs. By 1900 the condition was recognized as a chronic disease of the lungs associated with marked dyspnea (shortness of breath), hacking cough, defective aeration (oxygenation) of the blood, cyanosis (blue color of facial skin), and a full and rounded or "barrel shaped" chest. This disease is now most commonly associated with tobacco smoking. [NGSQ1988]

Empyema / Empyĉma

A collection of purulent matter in the cavity of the breast. [Buchan1798]

The presence of pus in a body cavity, especially the pleural cavity. [Heritage].

Example from an 1897 death certificate from New York:


Inflammation of the brain. Cephalitis. [Dunglison1868].

An inflammation of the brain. Encephalitis may be caused by a virus or lead poisoning, or it may be a complication of another disease, such as influenza or measles. Encephalitis can cause permanent brain damage or death. It is also possible, however, to recover from it completely. [American Heritage].

Example from an 1859 Church Record in Münster, Switzerland:

Infectious Encephalitis

Encephalitis Contagious. Encephalitis caused by one of several viruses or bacteria. [American Heritage].

Encephalitis Lethargica

Viral epidemic encephalitis marked by apathy, paralysis of the extrinsic eye muscle, and extreme muscular weakness. It occurred in various parts of the world between 1915 and 1926. Also called sleeping sickness, sleepy sickness. [Heritage].

Example from a 1919 Death Certificate from Georgia:


Protrusion of both brain substance and the meninges through a fissure in the skull. [Merriam Webster].

Encephalocele. Hernial protrusion of brain substance and meninges through a congenital or traumatic opening of the skull. [Dorland].

Example from a 1922 Death Certificate from Georgia:


An acute inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. [American Heritage].

Example from a 1919 Death Certificate from Georgia:

English Disease


English Malady


English Sweating Disease

Sudor Anglicus

English Sweating Sickness/Fever

Sudor Anglicus


Obstruction of the intestines from accumulation of feces or otherwise. [Dunglison1868]

Enteric Fever

The fever of enteritis; see typhoid fever. [Appleton1904].

Serious infection marked by intestinal inflammation and ulceration; caused by Salmonella typhosa ingested with food or water. Synonyms: typhoid, typhoid fever. [Wordnet].

Enteric: of or relating to or inside the intestines; "intestinal disease" [Wordnet].

Example from an 1869 British regimental papers from India:


Inflammation of the intestine. [Stedman 1918]

Inflammation of the intestine, usually referring only to the small intestine. [Dorland].

Example from an 1848 Church Record in Münster, Switzerland:

Mucous Enteritis

An affection of the intestinal mucous membrane characterized by constipation or diarrhea, sometimes alternating, colic, and the passing of psuedomembraneous shreds or incomplete casts of the intestine. [Stedman 1918].

Example from an 1887 death certificate from Illinois:

Zymotic Enteritis

Epidemic enteritis; formerly called: epidemic diarrhea, gastro-enteritis, muco-enteritis and gastric catarrh. [The Practioner, 1902].

Example from a 1917 Death Certificate from England:


Inflammatory Diarrhœa. [Appleton1904].

Inflammation of the mucous membrane of both the small and large intestine. Also called coloenteritis. [American Heritage].

Example from an 1930 death certificate from Ohio:


Consumption owing to suppuration in the intestines. [Dunglison1868]


A fever which runs its course of the cold, hot, and sweating stages in twelve hours. [Thomas1875]




Occurring suddenly in numbers clearly in excess of normal expectancy; said especially of infectious diseases but applied also to any disease, injury, or other health-related event occurring in such outbreaks. [Dorland]

Epilepsy / Epilepsia

The epilepsy is a sudden deprivation of all the senses, wherein the patient falls suddenly down, and is effected with violent convulsive motions. [Buchan1785].

The ``falling sickness,'' so called because the patient falls suddenly to the ground; a disease characterized by paroxysms (or fits) occurring at interval and attended by sudden loss of consciousness, and convulsive motions of the muscles. --Dunglison. [Webster1913].

Any of various neurological disorders characterized by sudden recurring attacks of motor, sensory, or psychic malfunction with or without loss of consciousness or convulsive seizures. [Heritage]

"epilepsy" was first used in 1578. [Webster]

Fact sheet from CDC

Example from an 1859 death certificate from West Virginia:

Example from an 1898 Cemetery record from Maine:

Jacksonian Epilepsy

Focal epilepsy in which the attack usually moves from distal to proximal limb muscles on the same side of the body. [Wordnet]

Epileptic Fit

A seizure or convulsion caused by epilepsy. [Heritage].

Example from an 1868 death certificate from West Virginia:

Epileptic Seizure

A seizure or convulsion caused by epilepsy. [Heritage].

Example from an 1885 death certificate from Illinois:


Resembling that of epilepsy. [Merriam-Webster].

Example from a 1929 death certificate from Minnesota:


Nose bleed. Hemorrhage from the nose, arising in the cavity or in sinuses leading into it. [Thomas1907]


A malignant growth containing epithelial cells; -- called also {epithelial cancer}. [Webster1913].

A growth or tumor consisting chiefly of epithelial cells. [].

A malignant tumor of the epithelial tissue. [Wordnet].

Example from a 1909 Canadian Death Certificate:


An eruptive fever, called by the Romans Ignis Sacer; popularly , the Rose, from the color of the skin; and St. Anthony's fire, from the burning heat, or because St. Anthony was supposed to cure it miraculously. [Hoblyn1855]

Redness or inflammation of some part of the skin, with fever, inflammatory or typhoid, and, generally, vesecations on the affected part, and symptomatic fever. It is also called St. Anthony's Fire, Ignis Sacer ("Sacred Fire"), the Rose and other names. [Thomas1875]

St. Anthony's fire; a febrile disease accompanied with a diffused inflammation of the skin, which, starting usually from a single point, spreads gradually over its surface. It is usually regarded as contagious, and often occurs epidemically.  [Webster1913]

An acute disease of the skin and subcutaneous tissue caused by a species of hemolytic streptococcus and marked by localized inflammation and fever. Also called Saint Anthony's fire. [Heritage].

 "erysipelas" was first used in popular English literature: sometime before 1837. [Webster]

Example from an 1866 death certificate from West Virginia:

Bronzed Erysipelas

At times the surface in erysipelas has a bronzed rather than a red hue. [Dunglison1874]

Facial Erysipelas

Erysipelas that affects the face, which is marked by an area of swelling, redness, and itching. [The American Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1922].

Example from an 1880 death certificate from Pennsylvania:

Phlegmonous Erysipelas

When erysipelas is of a highly inflammatory character, and invades the parts beneath, it is termed Erysipelas phlegmonodes. [Dunglison1868].

Example from an 1876 death certificate from Australia:


This name is, sometimes, given to erysipelas, especially when of a local character. It is, also, applied to the morbid redness on the cheeks of the hectic and on the skin covering bubo, phlegmon, etc. [Dunglison1868].

Redness of the skin produced by congestion of the capillaries. [Dorland]

Erythema Infectiosum

Fifth Disease


Happening in summer, belonging to summer. This epithet is given to summer diseases, so called because they reign at that season, and appear to depend on the influence exerted by it on the animal economy. In the United States, the term summer disease or complaint means disorder of the bowels; as diarrhea, cholera morbus, etc.

Estivo-Autumnal Fever

Remittent Fever


Inflammation of the cellular membrane. When this condition extends in depth through the whole thickness of the subcutaneous cellular tissue, it is called dermotocellulitis. [Dunglison1874].


Hectic Fever


A feeling of great happiness or well-being. [Heritage]

Evanescent Fever


The Evil



A skin rash accompanying any eruptive disease or fever. [LEO]

Exanthem Subitum

Roseola Infantum


An efflorescence or discoloration of the skin; an eruption or breaking out, as in measles, smallpox, scarlatina, and the like diseases; -- sometimes limited to eruptions attended with fever. --Dunglison. [Webster]


Loss of strength, occasioned by excessive evacuations, great fatigue or privation of food, or by disease. [Dunglison1855]

The state of prostration of the vital forces. [Appleton1904].

Example from an 1852 Death Certificate from England:


The condition of being exposed without protection to the effects of harsh weather, esp. the cold: to suffer from exposure. [Random House].

Example from an 1888 death certificate from New Brunswick, Canada:


The act of forcing or letting out of its proper vessels or ducts, as a fluid; effusion; as, an extravasation of blood after a rupture of the vessels. [Webster].

Example from an 1858 death certificate from England: