Medical Terms Explained

Many of us see the terms illness, disease, disorder, syndrome and condition as interchangeable. We often say “disease” when referring to a disorder or syndrome. However, when it comes to healthcare, it’s important to know the distinction.

Problems in the structure or function of the body, causing specific symptoms. This must be measurable and recognisable to healthcare staff.

Any disruption in the body’s structure or function. We can use “disorder” when there is not enough evidence to make a diagnosis.

A group of symptoms assumed to have the same cause. Knowing the syndrome is essential before diagnosing a disease.

This describes the state of a person’s health. For example “stable” or “critical” condition.

A Hierarchy of Terms
It all begins with symptoms. When we have a specific group of symptoms at the same time, this is known as a syndrome. Healthcare staff consider your syndrome and your overall health and determine the disorder. Finally, once we know the cause of the disorder, we can diagnose a disease. The process, from first noticing a symptom to receiving a disease diagnosis, can take years.
The term illness can be used at any point. A person can say they are ill when experiencing one symptom, and when they have received a diagnosis. This state does not change unless they recover.

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