Medieval Diseases

Diseases were very common throughout the Medieval Period mainly due to lack of proper diet, poor hygiene and living conditions and dirty over crowded towns and cities

Some of the most common diseases in the middle ages were dysentery, cholera, typhoid fever, chicken pox, measles and the black plague to name a few.

The black death of the 14th century killed millions of people and was caused by fleas, that carried the 'Bubonic plague' and other diseases biting medieval people.

Black Plague

The 'Black Plague' was a deadly disease that killed millions of people in the 14th century Read more about the Black Plague >>

Bubonic Plague

The Bubonic Plague was a bacterium that was spread by fleas infected by the disease biting humans! Read more about the Bubonic Plague >>

Medieval Diseases | Skin Diseases

Skin diseases were mostly caused by poor hygiene and were common among the poor peasants and towns people.

Lice, bedbugs, fleas and other insects lived in the rough wool clothing that peasants and other medieval people wore.

These insects irritated their skin and caused infection.

People had to bring water from nearby wells or rivers in order to take a bath.

They found this a very difficult task and therefore used to bathe only once a week or less.


Survey was caused by the shortage of Vitamin C intake due to poor medieval diets.

Scurvy made gums spongy and loosened the teeth.

As people were poor so they couldn’t afford fresh fruits that was the source of vitamin C

Survey was caused by the shortage of Vitamin C intake due to poor medieval diets.

Dysentery, Typhoid Fever and Cholera

People suffered from the serious diseases such as dysentery, typhoid fever, cholera and diarrhea mainly due to dirty water and foods infected by bacteria.

People thought these diseases were caused by eating raw fruits and vegetables, whereas it wasn’t the case.

People used to vomit after having stomach viruses and food poisonings.

Measles, Small pox and Chicken Pox

Many medieval diseases spread through human to human interaction as viruses spread amongst the population.

Skin diseases like measles, small pox and chicken pox caused scarring of skin, blisters, high fevers and in some cases deaths.

Medieval Diseases women with smallpox

Medieval Women with smallpox medieval disease visiting a Medieval bishop

Diphtheria, Influenza and Whooping Cough

Due to viruses, medieval People suffered from severe throat and chest infections with diseases such as diphtheria, influenza and whooping cough.

These diseases spread quickly from town to town in a very short period of time and killed many people.


Among Medieval diseases Leprosy was one of the most threatening.

Leprosy had a direct impact on a person’s skin, eyes, nerves and breathing.

Medieval people suffering from leprosy could lose their fingers, toes and even the tips of their noses.

There were separate houses called “leproseries” for the sick as it was thought that leprosy was a contagious disease at that time.

People with leprosy were separated from their families and had to live their lives in seclusion.

Lepers had special dresses for public appearances in order to warn people that they were coming – they also rattled their clappers or bells.

It was the church’s responsibility to take care of such people.

Leprosy had a direct impact on a person’s skin, eyes, nerves and breathing.

The Black Death

Among medieval diseases the Black Death or the black plague was the deadliest.

From around 1346 – 1353 AD around 75 to 200 million people died of this disease.

It was estimated that this disease had killed 1 in 4 people.

It is believed that the Black Death came to Europe on 12 trading ships that sailed from central Asia.

These ships docked on the Italian seaports had sick and dead people aboard.

Locals eventually succeeded in sending the ships away, but it was already too late as many people had already caught the disease.

The infected people, then unwillingly spread the disease as they traveled from town to town.

The black plagues consisted of three types of plagues

  • Bubonic.
  • Septicemic.
  • Pneumonia.

Some people thought that these plagues were sent from God in order to punish them for their sins. These people arranged religious processions for forgiveness.

Black Death Tourmai France

Black Death Tourmai France

Worst Medieval Diseases

The worst medieval diseases were the leprosy and the black death.

Although with leprosy people suffered a lot and it caused organ withering and wound formation – but it still was nowhere near as bad as the ‘Black Death’ that took lives of hundreds of millions.

Leprosy spread through the nasal secretions of patients, whereas the black plague was an endemic that spread like wild fire.

London City Black Death

Medieval London City Doctor in Black Death

Bubonic Plague

The Bubonic plague was the main plague of the three plagues that caused the Black Death.

It was caused by the “Yersinia pestis” bacterium that transferred to a human through an infected flea bite.

When the bacteria entered into a person’s lymphatic system, it developed buboes – painful bumps, under the armpits, groin or on the neck. Fevers and headaches were also present.

The only way a person could survive was if the bumps broke open, spilling out the poisonous bacteria.

If the bump did not open the people died within three days of first bump!

Medieval Disease - Bubonic Plague

Leg of a Medieval women who has the medieval disease the bubonic plague

Cures for Medieval Diseases

Medieval diseases were mainly cured by balancing the four humors – mucus, blood, black bile and yellow bile.

There was no major development in the field of medicine during medieval times hence most diseases were cured by herbs and plants.

The ancient doctrine of analogy was applied and it was thought that to treat heart diseases heart shaped leaves were good, for kidney diseases kidney shaped leaves were used.

In order to treat eye diseases, flowers resembling the eye’s shape were used.

Leprosy was mainly treated by sending the patients to separate houses and keeping them away from healthy people.

For treatment of the plague a herb called “plague root” was used.

Plague root’s leaves were wrapped around the infected areas and the roots were boiled in wine and given to patients for eating.

Medieval medicine book

medieval medicine herbs book cures

Medieval Diseases Summary

During the Medieval Period, due to poor hygienic conditions and poor food intake people suffered from a lot of diseases, but the major diseases were leprosy and the black plague.

In the fourteenth century the plague caused millions of deaths as proper treatment was not available.

Treatment of these diseases was mostly by plants, herbs and traditional methods like balancing the four humors.

Medieval Diseases - Anatomy Book

Medieval Book of Anatomy in medieval times for medieval diseases

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