nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
See here for more discussion.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Breaking The Nostrums Mold: Secret (Obsolete) Medical Terms

It's a lousy day for interesting medical stuff.  I'm tired of hearing the same old health care reform arguments and I'm tired of reading research that says, "Eat more spinach," or some such.

So just for fun, I want to tell you about a hobby.  I went to medical school long enough ago to have learned a number of eponyms.  These are "persons from whom something is said to take its name".

Like Alzheimer's disease.  Named after Alois Alzheimer, German physician who first described the disease, pre-senile dementia, that has come to be known more commonly by the... eponym.

Medicine has turned away from these colorful names, and only a few survive.  But they were great fun to learn, and you could stump your friends by saying, "You don't know what Osler-Weber-Rendu syndrome is?  Didn't you learn anything in school?"  Now, doctors refer to this syndrome by the scientific name "hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia."

But doesn't Guillain-Barre syndrome sound better than myeloradiculopolyneuronitis?

These cool names were just fun to roll off the tongue and conferred a sense of history about the discovery and progress of medicine.

So here are a few of my favorites:

--Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome (fulminating meningococcal septicemia, usually rapidly fatal.)

--Henoch-Schönlein purpura (bruising that occurs in a bleeding disease occurring mainly in children)

--Trendelenburg position (head down, knees  bent position to do an operation)

--Klinefelter's syndrome (chromosomal abnormality:   XXY)

--Crigler-Najjar syndrome (bad genetic defect in bilirubin metabolism)

--Dandy-Walker syndrome (a type of hydrocephalus)

--Braxton Hicks' contractions  (irregular contractions of pregnancy)

--Rovsing's sign (obscure:  from appendicitis.  push on the left to get pain on the right)

--Legg-Calvè-Perthes disease (necrosis of the upper end of the femur)

--Hand-Schüller-Christian disease (generalized lipid histiocytosis...destroys bone, espec the skull)

--Marie-Strümpell disease (ankylosing spondylitis ... a progressive arthritis of the back)

That's enough tongue-twisters.  There are thousands of these; each a testament to some observation by clinicians from the past.  Seeing the words doesn't give an appreciation for the sound.

People talk about the art and the science of medicine.  These eponyms were part of the romance of medical education.

Doc D

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