Anasarca, ascites, water retention or eclampsia. Commonly known today as Congestive Heart Failure. The term generally referred to people who were swollen with water. They were prone to dropping things because the brain was also effected by the swelling causing neurological side effects.
Common folk medicine treated dropsy with foxglove leaves. Digitalis purpura or purple foxglove is found growing wild in the woods and is grown as an ornamental perennial in gardens. The plant is a herbaceous biennial (flowering every other year) and readily self sows. The leaves, flowers, and seeds of the plant are all toxic and may be fatal if ingested. This is the plant form of the drug digitalis or digitoxin. It’s important to remember that during the late 1800s and the early 1900s most of the terms used in death records were generic. The terms encompassed several meaning and generally described symptomology rather than a precise disease state. What one person meant, wasn’t necessarily what another meant. There were regional variations in terminology, much like soda – in the northeast – and pop – in the Midwest -both meaning soft drink.