We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

Edexcel GCSE History: Medicine in Britain c1250–present Glossary

The key vocabulary you need to learn for your Edexcel GCSE History: Medicine in Britain c1250–present History paper. Find all the terms and definitions you need to understand, from ‘anaesthetic’ to ‘wise woman’.
A – B (Anaesthetic to bloodletting)
An anaesthetic is a drug used during surgery to stop the patient feeling pain.

The term anatomy refers to the study of the structure of the human body.

An antibiotic is a medicine, or drug, that destroys infectious bacteria or prevents the microorganisms from spreading; penicillin is an antibiotic.

The term antiseptic describes something that slows the growth of and can kill disease-causing viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms.

An apothecary is a person who prescribed, mixed, and sold herbal remedies.

The term aseptic describes something that is free from disease-causing viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms.

The term astrology refers to the belief that the movement and position of the planets influence human lives, including health.

Bacteria is the plural form of ‘bacterium’, which is a single-celled microorganism. Bacteria can spread or carry lots of diseases.

A bacterium is a microbe that lives in air, water, soil, plants, or animals; some can cause disease.

barber surgeon
During the medieval period, a barber surgeon was a tradesman who cut hair and shaved customers but also performed basic surgery and dentistry.

blood transfusion
The term blood transfusion refers to the injection of a volume of blood from a healthy person into a patient.

The term bloodletting refers to when a surgeon opens a vein to drain or draw blood.

C (Casualty to compound fracture)

A casualty is a person hurt or killed during a war or in an accident.

A cesspit is a pit built to contain liquid waste and sewage.

chain of evacuation
The chain of evacuation was the name given to the route and method of taking injured soldiers away from the frontline during the First World War.

The term chemotherapy referred to the use of chemicals as a medical treatment; chemotherapy is now most associated with cancer treatments.

Cholera is an acute disease involving severe diarrhoea that is caused by cholera bacteria in food or water.

The term circulation refers to how the blood moves and flows, or circulates, around the body, driven by the pumping heart.

A communist is a person who believes in the principles of social organisation in which property is owned communally rather than individually.

compound fracture
A compound fracture is a broken bone (or fracture) near an open wound, where the sharp edges of the broken bone often pierce the skin.

D – G (Diagnosed to Germ Theory)
To be diagnosed is to have been identified as having a particular illness or a disease based on the patient’s symptoms.

The term diagnosis refers to the identification of an illness or a disease by examining the patient’s symptoms.

To dissect is to cut something up, such as body or a plant, to study its internal parts.

The term dissection refers to the process of cutting apart, or dissecting, a body to learn about its internal parts.

DNA is abbreviated form of deoxyribonucleic acid; DNA carries genes (hereditary characteristics) from one generation to another, and DNA can dictate everything from hair colour to which diseases a person is more likely to get.

A flagellant is a person who whips himself or herself as a religious practice. During the Black Death, flagellants believed that, by punishing themselves, God would show them mercy and save them from death.

The military term front refers to the farthest place an army can reach and where two or more armies meet and engage in fighting.

The term gangrene refers to a medical condition in which the loss of blood flow or bacterial infection causes areas of flesh to die.

Genetics is the study of how characteristics of living things are passed (through genes) from parents to children.

Germ Theory
The term Germ Theory refers to the idea that germs, or microbes, are the cause of decay and disease. In Europe, the theory was developed and proven between about 1850 and 1920.

H – M (Hereditary to mortality)

The term hereditary describes characteristics and diseases that are passed on from parent to child through genes, which are carried by DNA.

The term immunity refers to the state of being resistant to a particular infectious disease; vaccination gives a person immunity to a particular disease.

The term inoculation refers to deliberately infecting people with a weak or related form of a disease to give them immunity to future infections.

The French words laissez-faire mean ‘leave alone’; in the nineteenth century, many people felt this was what the UK government should do: not interfere, not force people to change, and allow things to take their course.

A laxative is substance taken as a drug or medicine that causes a person to empty their bowels.

magic bullet
The term magic bullet refers to early chemical cures for diseases, including the medicines Salvarsan 606, which treated syphilis, and Prontosil, which treated blood poisoning.

The term miasma refers to bad smells that were believed to spread disease.

A microbe is a very small living thing, a germ or a microorganism such as bacteria, and especially one that causes disease.

Mortality is death; the term is also used for death rate, which is the number of deaths in a population in a known period of time.

N – P (NHS to purge)
The abbreviated form NHS stands for the UK’s National Health Service.

no-man’s land
No-man’s land was the name given to the land between opposing armies and their trench lines at the front.

The term observation refers to closely watching and monitoring something or someone.

The term pandemic refers to an outbreak of an infectious disease that spreads widely throughout one country or many countries.

The term pasteurisation refers to partially sterilising (removing germs from) something, such as milk, to make it safe to eat or drink.

Penicillin is an antibiotic produced naturally by mould.

pest house
The term pest house refers to a hospital for people with contagious diseases.

pharmaceutical company
A pharmaceutical company is a business that manufactures medicines and drugs.

A physician, or doctor, is a person who is trained and qualified to practise medicine.

plastic surgery
The term plastic surgery refers to the repairing and reconstructing of damaged tissue and skin.

public health
The term public health refers to the health of the population as a whole.

A purge is a process intended to get rid of an unwanted condition or feeling; during the medieval period, emetics and laxatives were used to ‘purge’ excess humours to bring them back into balance.

Q - S (Quack to symptom)
A quack is a person who pretends to have medical knowledge and promotes fake cures; an unqualified, often useless, doctor.

Quarantine refers to the state or period of being isolated from others to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

Rational describes something based on reason, logic, or science.

The Reformation was the sixteenth-century religious movement that saw the Church in Europe split into Catholicism and Protestantism.

The Renaissance was the ‘rebirth’ or revival of European art, literature, and culture during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when artists and writers rediscovered ideas from the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations.

shell shock
Shell shock is the name given to a mental health condition suffered by soldiers during the First World War; today, shell shock is known as PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Shrapnel is the red-hot, razor-sharp fragments of the outer casing of a shrapnel shell that caused significant injuries on the Western Front during the First World War.

Smallpox is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus.

spontaneous generation
The term spontaneous generation refers to the idea that life (for example, germs or maggots) can ‘magically’ appear from rotting material, and that germs are the result of – not the cause of – infectious disease.

The term superstitious describes the belief in ideas that are not rational, such as luck.

A symptom is a physical feature that indicates whether a person has a particular disease.

T - W (Theory of Opposites to wise woman)

Theory of Opposites
The Theory of Opposites was Galen’s belief that an imbalance in the four humours could be rebalanced; for example, eating cold, wet foods such as cucumber to treat a fever.

Theory of the Four Humours
The Theory of the Four Humours was Hippocrates’ belief that the body is made up of four fluids, or humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, black bile), and that illness occurs when the four fluids are out of balance.

A trench is a long, narrow ditch; both sides built trenches on the Western Front during the First World War.

trench fever
Trench fever is a contagious disease transmitted by lice; it infested soldiers in the trenches during the First World War.

trench foot
The term trench foot refers to damage to the feet caused by excess moisture.

The term vaccination refers to the process of making someone immune to a specific disease by infecting them with a similar but harmless disease or with a weakened form of a disease-causing microbe.

wise woman
A wise woman was a local woman who made her own herbal remedies using recipes passed down from generation to generation, set broken bones, and acted as a midwife.