You know you've got it if: You're suffering from green skin, menstrual cessation, and lethargy.
Victims: In 1554, doctors determined the green monster was targeting virgin girls with the disease they labeled "chlorosis." Later, various physicians reported that the condition was a direct result of women either being undersexed, or in the case of university girls, over-educated.
Treatment: Many believed the cure to ending virgin's disease was as simple as ending virginity. In a letter to a worried father, one physician suggested that he arranged for his daughter to get pregnant as soon as possible. His rationale? "If they conceive, they recover." Amazingly, chlorosis didn't disappear from medical textbooks until the 1930s. These days, doctors recognize the symptoms as part of anemia and prescribe iron supplements instead of sex.
Visceroptosis, or "Organ Drooping"
You know you've got it if: You think you're sick. If you suffer from occasional headaches, poor sleep, or even if you don't have any real symptoms, organ drooping is probably to blame.
Victims: People with poor posture, women who had multiple pregnancies, and - above all - girls who wore excessively tight corsets. Visceroptosis was defined as the downward displacement of inner organs within the abdominal cavity. Testing was simple: if a doctor placed light pressure on patients' abdomens and if it made them feel better, organ drooping was taking place.
Treatment: Although organs can cause problems if they get repositioned in the body, the diagnosis was basically a way for surgeons to make money. Organ drooping was such a common diagnosis at the end of the 19th century that specialized surgery clinics popped up across the country to "treat" it. But the popularity of visceroptosis ended with World War I, when surgeons had real problems to fix.
The English Sweat
You know if you've got it if: You're experiencing fever, aches, exhaustion, and of, course, sweating through your shirt. Worse still, people were said to die within 24 hours of contracting the symptoms.
Victims: Strangely, only people living in England. Outbreaks of the sweating sickness broke out in the summer months of 1485, 1508, 1517, 1528, and 1551. Only once did an outbreak make it beyond England's borders.
The real cause: Poor hygiene. Although scientists still aren't sure exactly what caused "the sweating sickness," they believe it might have been a flu-type virus spread by filth or rodents. One monarch had a unique prevention technique: King Henry VIII was so scared of contracting the sweat that he moved around the country from manor to manor trying to outrun it.
... And One Real Disease You Might Have: Love Sickness
You know if you've got it: You're listening to a lot of country music. In addition to some unrequited love, you also may experience loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and an irregular pulse, among other things.
What it isn't: One ancient medieval writer claimed the illness could cause the body of a jilted lover to fill with black bile. Also, an Islamic philosopher said lovesick men could turn into werewolves.
What it could be: Roman Emperor Commodus' personal physician, Claudius Galenus or Galen, first officially diagnosed lovesickness as a medical disease in the 2nd century C.E. Although that classification eventually fell out of favor, recent brain-imaging studies have shown that people who are madly in love exhibit neurological patterns similar to OCD sufferers.
The article above, written by Josie Swindler, is reprinted with permission from Scatterbrained section of the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of mental_floss magazine.
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