There are many diseases in the world, many of which have accompanied us throughout history. Something as seemingly simple and easy to treat today as a flu or an infection was once a death sentence for those who suffered from it.

Thanks to the many scientific and technical advances, it has been possible to better understand and treat various conditions. But it is not only the explanation of the problems, their causes and treatments that have evolved: largely due to the improved understanding of the disorders and the different research and conceptions of pathology in different parts of the world, different ways of referring to them have also emerged and disappeared.

An example is what was once called the disease of the side , which today could encompass and/or correspond to different diseases.

The disease of the side: what did it refer to?

The disease of the side, flank disease or lateralis pain is an old way of calling a disorder observed since ancient times characterized by the presence of a high level of pain in the abdominal area , which usually worsens with movement or exertion and is accompanied by fever, gastrointestinal disorders, defecatory problems, respiratory rhythm disorders and arrhythmias.

This disease has generated a large number of deaths throughout history, until the discovery of its causes and the invention of effective treatments for its solution. Today it is usually identified with a specific pathology, although within the denomination could be agglutinated different affectations (given that there are a great number of possible causes that generate abdominal pain and the general symptomatology to which the concept refers). Although the name side disease is often unusual today, there are still people who use this term.

What conditions can it be matched with? Possible causes

The truth is that the term side disease, today, may seem a bit generic since it does not offer real information about its causes, but simply a more or less extensive area of the body where the problem is located. In this sense, the disease of the side can correspond or include within it different conditions, among which the following stand out.

1. Appendicitis

This is probably the medical diagnosis with which the disease or flank disease would be most closely matched. This disease, which is now well known and whose existence requires the removal of the appendix without major complications, was the cause of a large number of deaths during antiquity and the Middle Ages .

This disease implies the existence of a dilation and inflammation of the appendix caused by an obstruction (which may or may not be the result of an infection, being the most frequent) that prevents the correct drainage of the intestinal mucus and that in the long run may cause compression and rupture of the appendix. The clearest and most obvious symptom is pain located in the side (specifically at the so-called McBurney’s point, in the lower right part of the abdomen), which can be accompanied by symptoms such as vomiting and nausea, fever and hyperthermia, and tremors.

If left untreated, necrosis and infection of this tissue and the surrounding tissue may occur (including peritoneum) or even the appendix may rupture, causing major bleeding. These are probably the causes of most of the deaths associated with flank disease.

2. Acute cholecystitis

Inflammation of the gallbladder, mostly generated by the presence of stones in that organ. Inflammation can lead to necrosis, suppuration and gangrene. It also generates pain in the side, in addition to triggering other problems and complications. It can complicate peritonitis or pancreatitis, and also has a fatal potential .

3. Peritonitis

Inflammation of the peritoneum, usually due to a bacterial (septic) infection or a build up of body fluids and pus (aseptic peritonitis). The symptoms resemble those of flank disease: abdominal pain, fever, breathing problems, swelling, vomiting and diarrhoea or constipation . If left untreated, it can cause death.

4. Renal lithiasis

This disease generated by the presence of kidney stones is another one that could be considered as a side disease. The excessive accumulation of these elements generates pain, and in the long run can even generate the so-called nephritic colics . However, it is less likely that flank disease refers to it because of its greater similarity to the previous ones.

What would medical treatment look like today?

Unlike in the Middle Ages, when diseases of the side led to the death of a large number of people , today there are more means to overcome the diseases grouped in this disused category . However, this is not a harmless problem: it is a problem that remains potentially deadly if left untreated.

As far as the procedure to be used is concerned, the first step is obviously to diagnose the problem itself in a much more specific way. In this sense, it is possible to make a scan through touch to notice the presence of inflammation, but also it is possible to resort to techniques such as MRIs and X-rays with contrast . The use of blood and stool tests can reflect information of great relevance. The use of techniques such as colonoscopy can also allow a more complete view of the state of the digestive tract.

Once the organ that is failing and the problem presented has been detected, the treatment will vary according to its causes. Surgery can be used to remove damaged or affected parts, as in the case of appendicitis. If there is an infection, the administration of antibiotics will also be necessary.

Bibliographic references:

  • “Medicine, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press. September 2014. Retrieved 8 November 2014.

  • Grammaticos PC, Diamantis A (2008). “Useful known and unknown views of the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates and his teacher Democritus”. Hellenic Journal of Nuclear Medicine.