Rheumatic diseases in the Civil War era

What were the rheumatic diseases in the Civil War era?

Medical records of the American Civil War recorded 160,000 cases of “acute rheumatism,” mainly acute rheumatic fever, perhaps infectious arthritis or gout. More than 260,000 cases of “chronic rheumatism” were recorded, probably chronic rheumatic fever and reactive arthritis, of which 12,000 were discharged. The validity of these clinical diagnoses on the war front may temper some of these data, and more recent data of war-related rheumatic syndromes give a better perspective.

In 1863, General Robert E. Lee described paroxysms of chest pains radiating to the left shoulder and back, which was diagnosed as rheumatic pericarditis. He was given quinine. By 1870, because the pains occurred at rest, these attacks were probably advancing coronary atherosclerosis.


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