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Colonial America | Culture | Diseases

DID YOU KNOW?
The average life expectancy
of early colonial residents
was just 25 years.

A

AGUE: see MALARIA

APOPLEXY: stroke; sudden loss of consciousness due to lack of oxygen in the brain


Bubonic Plague or Black Death

Learn more about the Bubonic Plague epidemic that
wiped out nearly one third of Europe's population in
the Middle Ages.

B

BILIOUS FEVER: fever caused by liver disorder

BLACK DEATH: see BUBONIC PLAGUE

BLACK LUNG DISEASE: chronic lung disease from the prolonged breathing of coal dust

BRIGHT'S DISEASE: inflammation of the blood vessels in the kidneys

BUBONIC PLAGUE: a contagious, malignant disease most commonly characterized by headache, chills, and weakness; enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, neck, and armpits (buboes) are tender and painful; an overwhelming infection of the blood may cause death in three or four days, even before other symptoms appear; the bubonic plague is also called the "Black Death," named for the gangrene of the fingers, toes, and nose


C

CAMP FEVER: see TYPHUS FEVER

CATARRH: inflammation of the nose and throat which causes watery eyes and nose and increased mucous production

CHILBLAIN: an inflammatory swelling of the hands and feet caused by exposure to cold

CHLOROSIS: a disease in young women characterized by weakness and a greenish complexion; caused by iron deficiency or anemia

CHOREA: acute disturbance of the central nervous system characterized by involuntary muscular movements of the face and extremities; usually, but not always, a complication of rheumatic fever

CONGESTIVE FEVER: see MALARIA

CONSUMPTION: see TUBERCULOSIS


DID YOU KNOW?
Until the 19th century, most doctors did not
have a college education or need a special
certificate to practice medicine. In fact, until
the 18th century local barbers (also known
as barber-surgeons) would perform surgery,
dentistry, and provide haircuts. Learn more
about the history of barbers and their iconic
barber's pole.

D

DAY FEVER: an epidemic disease characterized by intense sweating; death often occurs in less than a day; also known as the sweating sickness

DIPHTHERIA: an infectious disease that usually affects the throat and upper respiratory system; characterized by the formation of a mucous membrane on the lining of the throat, causing difficulty in breathing and swallowing

DROPSY: see EDEMA

DYSENTERY: inflammation of body tissues resulting in body cavities producing a discharge of mucous and blood

DYSPEPSIA: a functional disease whose symptoms are triggered by eating; characteristics include upper abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, gas, and a feeling of fullness with a small intake of food


E

EDEMA: the swelling of soft body tissues caused by accumulation of excess fluids

EPILEPSY: a disease characterized by sudden loss of consciousness or convulsions; seizures are caused by a disorder in the central nervous system


F

FALLING SICKNESS: see EPILEPSY


Quack Doctor

Some colonists practiced quackery, meaning they
fooled ill people into believing they were being
cured while taking their money.

G

GOITER: a non-cancerous enlargement of the thyroid gland, visible as a swelling at the front of the neck; it is often associated with iodine deficiency

GOUT: an elevation of uric acid in the blood; characterized by kidney stones and painful inflammation of the joints

GRAVE'S DISEASE: over-activity of the thyroid gland

GREAT POX: see SYPHILIS

GREEN SICKNESS: see CHLOROSIS


J

JAUNDICE: a condition caused by high levels of bile in the blood; characterized by yellowness of the skin


L

LUMBAGO: a rheumatic pain in the loins and small of the back

LUNG FEVER: see PNEUMONIA

LUNG SICKNESS: see TUBERCULOSIS


M

MALARIA: an infectious, sometimes fatal disease spread by mosquitoes; symptoms include chills, fever, recurring headaches, muscle aches, vomiting, coughing, and jaundice

MILK SICKNESS: a form of poisoning caused by cows ingesting the leaves of the white snakeroot plant and passing along its toxin in their milk


P

PALSY: the loss or defect of the power of voluntary muscular motion in all or part of the body; paralysis

PLEURISY: inflammation of the membrane that covers the inside of the thorax, accompanied by fever, pain, and cough

PNEUMONIA: inflammation of the lungs; symptoms include fever, chills, coughing, and chest pain

PUERPERAL FEVER: high fever lasting more than 24 hours following the birth of a child

PUTRID FEVER: see TYPHUS FEVER


Medical Tools

Learn more about common health practices
during the Revolutionary War era.

R

RHEUMATISM: a general term describing painful muscles, joints, tendons, and bones

RICKETS: a disease of the skeletal system resulting from a deficiency of Vitamin D in the diet or from lack of exposure to sunlight


S

SCARLET FEVER: a disease caused by infection with a bacteria associated with strep throat; accompanied by a sore throat, fever, chills, vomiting, abdominal pain, and malaise

SCIATICA: pain in the lower back and behind the thighs; caused by a pinch in the sciatic nerve

SCURVY: a disorder caused by a Vitamin C deficiency; characterized by anemia, soft bleeding gums, and bumps under the skin; usually suffered by people living in confined areas or on a diet of salted meats without fresh fruits and vegetables

SEPTICEMIA: blood poisoning; symptoms include fever, chills, and exhaustion; treated with antibiotics

SMALLPOX: a contagious, often fatal disease caused by the variola virus, and characterized by a rash and small pus-filled lesions (or pocks) that form during an infection; it is spread by the fluid in the pocks on an infected person's skin or by droplets of their saliva

ST. VITUS' DANCE: see CHOREA

SYPHILIS: a highly contagious disease consisting of three stages: formation of a chancre, or a painless ulcer; hair loss, white patches, and rash; damage to the brain and heart


Take a tuberculosis matching
quiz
to test your knowledge
about this deadly disease.

T

TUBERCULOSIS: a highly contagious bacterial infection

TYPHUS FEVER: an acute, infectious disease characterized by high fever, headache, and a purple rash


U

ULCERATION: skin or tissue erosion caused by an ulcer


W

WHOOPING COUGH: a highly contagious disease of the respiratory system usually affecting children; characterized by runny eyes and nose followed by severe spasms of coughing

WINTER FEVER: see PNEUMONIA


To learn more about
a disease not listed
on this page, try
searching an online
dictionary of medical
terms.

Y

YELLOW FEVER: an acute viral disease causing high fever and kidney and liver damage; death of liver cells results in jaundice; often spread by mosquitoes

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Also see Smallpox.


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