Get the CD, Book or Download the Glossary

English Glossary of Causes of Death and other Archaic Medical Terms


A painful affection of the spine; especially, Pott's disease; also, formerly, lead colic. [Webster]

Rachitic Rosary

A row of beading at the junction of the ribs with their cartilages, often seen in rachitic children. [CancerWEB]

Rachitis / Rhachitis

The rickets. The English disease. A disease known by a large head, prominent forehead, protruded sternum, flattened ribs, big belly, and emaciated limbs, with great debility. It is usually confined in its attack between the two periods of nine months and two years of age, seldom appearing sooner than the former, or showing itself for the first time, after the latter period. The muscles become flaccid, the head enlarges, the carotids are distended, the limbs waste away, and their epiphyses increase in bulk. The bones and spine of the back are variously distorted; disinclination to muscular exertion follows; the abdomen swells and grows hard; the stools are frequent and loose; a slow fever succeeds, with cough and difficulty of respiration; atrophy is confirmed, and death ensues. Frequently it happens that nature restores the general health, and leaves the limbs distorted. [Hooper1829].

Properly, inflammation of the spine, but usually applied to the disease commonly known as rickets. [Thomas1875].

Example from an 1855 Church Record in Münster, Switzerland


Preternatural softening of an organ or part of an organ; Mollities. [Dunglison1868].

Example from an 1871 death certificate from Canada:

Rank Red Gum Strophulus Confertius




A vulgar term for the rattling sound in the throat of dying persons, arising from the accumulation of mucous, or purulent matter, in the bronchia, etc. [Thomas1875]





Recurrent Fever

Marked by recurring high fever and transmitted by the bite of infected lice or ticks; characterized by episodes of high fever and chills and headache and muscle pain and nausea that recur every week or ten days for several months [syn: relapsing fever]. [Wordnet]

Red Gown

Icterus Infantum. [Dunglison1868]

Strophulus Intertinctus. [Thomas1875]

Red Gum

Dr. Willan says that this is a corruption of the term Red gown, its variegated plots of red upon a pale ground being supposed to resemble a piece of red printed linen. See Strophulus. [Hoblyn1855]

Strophulus Intertinctus. [Thomas1875]

An eruption of red pimples upon the face, neck, and arms, in early infancy; tooth rash; strophulus. [CancerWEB]

Red Tongue Fever

Typhoid Fever

Reel Foot

Archaic term for clubfoot. [CancerWEB]


The return of a disease during, or shortly after, convalescence. [Dunglison1874]

Relapsing Fever

Any of several forms of an acute epidemic infectious disease marked by sudden recurring paroxysms of high fever lasting from five to seven days, articular and muscular pains, and a sudden crisis and caused by a spirochete of the genus Borrelia transmitted by the bites of lice and ticks and found in the circulating blood. Also called recurrent fever. [Webster]

Remittent Fever

A Remitting fever differs from a continual only in degree. It has frequent increases and decreases, or exacerbations and remissions, but never wholly leaves the patient during the course of the disease. [Buchan1785].

Remittent fever, is one which strikingly exacerbates and remits, but without intermission. The ordinary bilious fever of the United States is a simple remittent. Remittent fevers frequently vary in severity with the climate, being more fatal in tropical regions on account of complications, as cerebral derangement, irritable stomach, etc. [Dunglison1874].

One of the divisions of malarial fever in which there is but one revolution of the disease, the hot stage being greatly prolonged and made up of exacerbations and remissions. [Thomas1907].

A fever in which the symptoms temporarily abate at regular intervals, but do not wholly cease. [Webster].

Example from an 1826 death certificate from Pennsylvania:

Renal Calculus

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

Renal Gravel



Removal of part of the bone, usually the articular end of one or both bones forming a joint. [CivilWarMed]

Retention of Urine



A liquid discharge, especially from the air passages or the eye. [Appleton1904]

Rheumatic Fever

Infectious disease causing fever, pain, swelling of the joints, and inflammation of the valves of the heart. [CivilWarMed].

A severe infectious disease occurring chiefly in children, characterized by fever and painful inflammation of the joints and frequently resulting in permanent damage to the valves of the heart. [Heritage].


A kind of shifting phlegmasi or neuralgia sometimes seated in the muscles, sometimes in the parts surrounding the joints; and at others, within them, Flying gout. Hence the names Muscular, Articular, and Synovial, which have been applied to it. The disease may be acute or chronic. [Dunglison1874].

Any of several pathological conditions of the muscles, tendons, joints, bones, or nerves, characterized by discomfort and disability. Rheumatoid arthritis. [Heritage].

"rheumatism" was first used in popular English literature: sometime before 1749 [Webster]

Example from a 1790 Death Record from England:

Example from an 1869 death certificate from West Virginia:

Example from an 1898 Cemetery record from Maine:

Acute Rheumatism

Rheumatic Fever

Chronic Rheumatism

This term has been somewhat loosely applied to various chronic joint affections, sometimes of gouty origin or the result of rheumatoid arthritis. Strictly speaking, it may be applied to cases in which the joint lesions persist after an attack of rheumatism, and chronic inflammatory thickening of the tissues takes place, so that they become stiff and deformed. It is also appropriate to certain joint affections occurring in later life in rheumatic subjects, who are liable to repeated attacks of pain and stiffness in the joints, usually induced by exposure to cold and wet. This form of rheumatism is less migratory than the acute, and is commonly limited to one or two of the larger joints. After repeated attacks the affected joints may become permanently stiff and painful, and crackling or creaking may occur on movement. There is seldom any constitutional disturbance, and the heart is not liable to be affected. [Britannica1911].

Example from a 1922 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Rheumatism of the Hip


Inflammatory Rheumatism

Acute rheumatism attended with fever, and attacking usually the larger joints, which become swollen, hot, and very painful. [Webster].

Acute inflammation of several joints simultaneously, as with rheumatic fever. [American Heritage].

Example from an 1824 death certificate from West Virginia:

Example from a 1922 Death Certificate from Georgia:


Inflammation of the mucous membrane of the nose.



Rice Disease Asiatic Cholera (because supposed by some to be caused by damaged rice). [Dunglison 1903].

Rice Water Stools

Watery stools of serum containing detached epithelium and liquid feces, resembling rice water; observed in cholera. [Appleton1904]


A disease of children, characterized by a large head, crooked spine and limbs, tumid abdomen, and general debility; often accompanied with precocious mental faculties. The disease appears to consist essentially in the non-deposition of phosphate of lime in the osteoid tissues. [Thomas1875].

A deficiency disease resulting from a lack of vitamin D or calcium and from insufficient exposure to sunlight, characterized by defective bone growth and occurring chiefly in children. Also called rachitis. [Heritage].

Example from an 1836 death certificate from West Virginia:


Ringworm is an infection of the skin caused by a fungus. Ringworm can affect your skin anywhere on your body (tinea corporis), your scalp (tinea capitis), your groin area (tinea cruris, also called jock itch), or feet (tinea pedis, also called athlete's foot). [MedlinePlus]

Fact sheet from CDC
Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health


Abscess. [Dunglison1868].

A popular term for any inflammatory swelling; also for any morbid subjective sensation of something moving from the periphery toward the brain. [Appleton1904]

Rising of the Lights

The Croup (in some parts of England).

An old popular term for pleurisy. A vulgar name for croup. [Appleton1904].

Example from a 1734 Death Record from England:

River Sickness

Milk Sickness

Rock Fever

Typhoid Fever, Enteric Fever. [A Treatise on the Continued Fevers, Wilson, 1881].

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

An acute infectious disease that is caused by a microorganism (Rickettsia rickettsii) transmitted by ticks, is characterized by muscular pains, high fever, and skin eruptions, and is endemic throughout North America. [Heritage]

Fact sheet from CDC
Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health

Rodent Ulcer

An obsolete term for a slowly enlarging ulcerated basal cell carcinoma, usually on the face. [CancerWEB].

Example from an 1921 death certificate from Illinois:

Roman Fever

Malignant tertian, falciparum, or aestivoautumnal fever, formerly prevalent in the Roman Campagna and in the city of Rome; caused by Plasmodium falciparum. [CancerWEB]


A chronic dermatitis of the face, especially of the nose and cheeks, characterized by a red or rosy coloration, caused by dilation of capillaries, and the appearance of acne like pimples. Also called acne rosacea. [Heritage]

Rose Catarrh

Hay Fever

Rose Cold

A variety of hay fever sometimes attributed to the inhalation of the effluvia of roses. [Webster]

Rose Drop


Rose Rash

Roseola, Fourth disease.

Rose Spots

Characteristic exanthema of typhoid fever; 10-20 small pink papules on the lower trunk lasting a few days and leaving hyperpigmentation. [CancerWEB]

The Rose



A rose-colored efflorescence upon the skin, occurring in circumscribed patches of little or no elevation and often alternately fading and reviving; also, an acute specific disease which is characterized by an eruption of this character; -- called also rose rash, fourth disease. [Webster]

Epidemic Roseola


Roseola Infantum

A mild disease of infants and children characterized by fever lasting three days followed by an eruption of rose-colored spots called also exanthem subitum. [Webster]

Rosy Drop



German for Rubella, German Measles

Round Worm

Unsegmented worms with elongated rounded body pointed at both ends; mostly free-living but some are parasitic. Infections of the skin or nails caused by fungi and appearing as itching circular patches. [Wordnet]


The Croup


A mild contagious eruptive disease caused by a virus and capable of producing congenital defects in infants born to mothers infected during the first three months of pregnancy. Also called German measles. [Heritage]
Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health
Information Card from the CDC

Rubella Notha



The measle, a disease attended with inflammatory fever, dry cough, sneezing, drowsiness, and an eruption of small red points, perceptible by the touch. [Thomas1875]

An acute and highly contagious viral disease marked by distinct red spots followed by a rash; occurs primarily in children [syn: measles, morbilli]. [Webster].

Example from an 1825 death certificate from Pennsylvania:




An eruption of large flattish blebs, which contain a fluid - at first serous, afterwards puriform, and often bloody, which rapidly concretes into crusts, at the base of which are ulcers of variable depths. [Dunglison1868]

An eruptive disease in which there are broad flat vesicles, succeeded by an ill-conditioned discharge which thickens into superficial scabs, easily detached and immediately replaced by new ones. [Thomas1875]

An eruption upon the skin, consisting of vesicles with inflamed base and filled with serous, purulent, or bloody fluid, which dries up, forming a blackish crust. [Webster1913]

An eruption occurring especially in tertiary syphilis consisting of vesicles having an inflamed base and filled with serous purulent or bloody fluid which dries up and forms large blackish conical crusts. [Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary]

Yaws. [Heritage]

Rupia Escharotica

Known in Ireland under the names - white blisters, eating hives, and burnt holes. An affection which bears a close similarity to pemphigus, particularly in the absence of a thick rugous crust, whilst in its chief feature, that of ulceration, it evidently bolongs to rupia. [Dunglison1868]


A hernia, especially of the groin or intestines. [Heritage].

Example from a 1746 Death Record from England:

Russian Disease

Syphilis. The Polish called it the Russian disease.


White Swelling