- Human pathology

Home > Resources in pathology > Concepts > Concepts in pathology > symptoms


Thursday 10 February 2005



Definition : The term symptom (from the Greek syn = con/plus and pipto = fall, together meaning co-exist) has two similar meanings in the context of physical and mental health:

1. A symptom may loosely be said to be a physical condition which shows that one has a particular illness or disorder (see e.g. Longman, 1995).

An example of a symptom in this sense of the word would be a rash. However, correctly speaking, this is known as a sign, as would any indication detectable by a person other than the sufferer in the absence of verbal information from the patient.

2. Strictly, a symptom is a sensation or change in health function experienced by a patient. Thus, symptoms may be loosely classified as strong, mild or weak.

In this, medically correct, sense of the word, it is a subjective report, as opposed to a sign, which is objective evidence of the presence of a disease or disorder. Examples of symptoms are fatigue/tiredness, pain, or nausea.

The symptom that leads to a diagnosis is called a cardinal symptom. In contrast, elevated blood pressure, or abnormal appearance of the retina, would be a medical sign indicating the nature of the disease.

The term "Presenting symptom" is used to describe the initial concern which brings a patient to a doctor.

See also

- syndromes / syndrome
- clinical signs