Bilious fever was a medical diagnosis often used for any fever that exhibited the symptom of nausea or vomiting in addition to an increase in internal body temperature and strong diarrhea. "Bilious" means that the condition was thought to arise from disorders of bile, the two types of which were two of the Four Humours of traditional Galenic medicine.
The term is obsolete and no longer used, but was used by medical practitioners in the 18th and 19th centuries, often cited as a cause on death certificates. United States President Abraham Lincoln's son Willie was said to have died from bilious fever. Modern diagnoses for the same symptoms would include a wide range of conditions and infections.
Bilious fever (Latin bilis, "bile"): Refers to fever associated with excessive bile or bilirubin in the blood stream and tissues, causing jaundice (a yellow color in the skin or sclera of the eye). The most common cause was malaria. Viral hepatitis and bacterial infections of the blood stream (septicemia) may have caused a few of the deaths reported as bilious fever.
- George W. Givens, "Language of the Mormon Pioneers", Bonneville Books (2003), p. 19.
- Douglas C. Heiner, Evan L. Ivie and Teresa Lovell Whitehead, "Medical Terms Used by Saints in Nauvoo and Winter Quarters, 1839–48", in Religious Educator, 10, no. 3 (2009): 151–162.
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