by Dinethra Menon
I’m sure you’re familiar with the basic concepts of diseases, disorders, syndromes, and conditions.
The terms are often used interchangeably – but they actually have different meanings.
And, for some of us – especially for those who English is a second language – describing what a disease is and how it differs from a disorder, syndrome or condition can be quite difficult.
So, what IS the difference?
Read on to learn how to understand and define diseases, disorders, syndromes, and conditions.
What is a disease?
One of the original definitions of a disease was published in the British Medical Journal as early as 1900.
Today, doctors treat and diagnose a disease based on abnormalities in systemic functions – for example, cardiovascular disease.
These abnormalities can cause both physical and emotional signs and symptoms, as well as pain, dysfunction, distress, social problems or death.
What is a disorder?
While doctors diagnose and treat a disease, a disorder is defined as follows.
For example, a disorder resulting from cardiovascular disease is an arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat. An arrhythmia is not a disease itself – it’s an abnormal heartbeat that occurs as a result of having cardiovascular disease.
Disorders can be classified into the following areas:
What is a syndrome?
A syndrome is a term that refers to a disease or a disorder that has more than one identifying feature or symptom.
In other words, a syndrome is defined as follows:
Down syndrome is a well-known genetic syndrome.
It is characterised by having an extra copy of chromosome 21 in combination with a number of distinctive physical features at birth.
Medical syndromes can be caused by genetic mutations or other factors.
What is a condition?
Sometimes, a syndrome can be caused by a number of diseases or it can be a medical condition itself.
For example, chronic fatigue syndrome is a neurological condition, diagnosed from a collection of symptoms in addition to the main symptom of post-exertional malaise.
The AMA Style Insider provided a comprehensive overview of the origins of disease, condition and disorder which you can read here.
- A disease is a pathophysiological response to internal or external factors.
- A disorder is a disruption to regular bodily structure and function.
- A syndrome is a collection of signs and symptoms associated with a specific health-related cause.
- A condition is an abnormal state of health that interferes with normal or regular feelings of wellbeing.
Do you have trouble articulating the differences between diseases, disorders, syndromes and conditions?