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One hundred and fifty years ago, you could have left the doctor’s office with a diagnosis of the vapours, consumption or Bright’s disease. What do these archaic medical terms really mean?
Tuberculosis was known as “consumption” many years ago due to one of the signs of the disease — those who had it tended to lose weight.
Saint Vitus Dance
Sydenham’s chorea was known back in the day as Saint Vitus Dance, which is unfortunately characterized by jerking limbs and facial features of those afflicted.
This was a catch-all term for a variety of mental illnesses in women, such as depression, mania and even PMS. The male equivalent? Melancholy.
Although icterus is still used today, the more common term is jaundice — a yellowish pigmentation of the skin and eyes, often present in neonates or those with liver disease.
You’ve probably heard of typhus, but it also has a number of other terms when it has reached an epidemic standpoint — “jail fever,” “ship fever,” “hospital fever” and “camp fever” are just a few.
The term chlorosis was used for a certain type of anemia, where the red blood cells are more pale than normal. It was also known as “green sickness” due to the greenish cast of the skin experienced by those suffering from it.
When you think about it, kidney stones do often resemble gravel, but when you experience stones, nobody tells you that you have “gravel disease.”
The root of the term “mormal” is mort, meaning dead. This is likely why it was an early term for gangrene, which means dead and rotting tissue.
Although you can develop pneumonia during any season of the year, it’s more common in the colder months when germs are shared more freely — which likely led to the term “winter fever.”
If you’re suffering from swelling, modern medical professionals will note that down in your chart as edema and will specify the cause, but long ago, a simple “dropsy” did it.
When describing kidney infections years ago, physicians would use the term “Bright’s disease.” Today, however, it’s known as nephritis.