Medical Definition of Consumption

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Consumption: An old and once common term for wasting away of the body, particularly from pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). Other old TB terms include the King's evil or scrofula (TB of the lymph nodes in the neck) and Pott's disease (TB of the spine).

The World Health Organization (WHO) in "L'histoire de la tuberculose" notes that: "In 460 BC Hippocrates identified phtisis (the Greek word meaning "consumption") as the most widespread disease of his day and observed that it was almost always fatal. Someone who had tuberculosis seemed literally to be consumed by the disease. That is why they used to speak of 'consumption'" (my translation).

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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