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A symptom (from Greek σύμπτωμα, "accident, misfortune, that which befalls"[1], from συμπίπτω, "I befall", from συν- "together, with" + πίπτω, "I fall") is a departure from normal function or feeling which is noticed by a patient, indicating the presence of disease or abnormality. A symptom is subjective,[2] observed by the patient,[3] and not measured.[4]



Symptoms may be chronic, relapsing or remitting. They also may progressively worsen or progressively become better (convalescence). Conditions may also be classified as symptomatic (present and demonstrating symptoms) or asymptomatic (present but without symptoms). Asymptomatic conditions and asymptomatic infections can exist for many years undiagnosed and may only be found upon medical testing (such as high blood pressure).

Constitutional or general symptoms are those that are related to the systemic effects of a disease (e.g., fever, malaise, anorexia, weight loss). They affect the entire body rather than a specific organ or location.

The terms "chief complaint", "presenting symptom", or "presenting complaint" are used to describe the initial concern which brings a patient to a doctor. The symptom that ultimately leads to a diagnosis is called a "cardinal symptom".

Non-specific symptoms are those self-reported symptoms that do not indicate a specific disease process or involve an isolated body system. For example, fatigue is a feature of an enormous number of medical conditions, and is a documented feature of both acute and chronic medical conditions, both physical and mental disorders, and as both a primary and secondary symptom. Fatigue is also a normal, healthy condition when experienced after exertion or at the end of a day.

Possible causes

Some symptoms occur in a wide range of disease processes, whereas other symptoms are fairly specific for a narrow range of illnesses. For example, a sudden loss of sight in one eye has a significantly smaller number of possible causes than nausea does.

Some symptoms can be misleading to the patient or the medical practitioner caring for them. For example, inflammation of the gallbladder often gives rise to pain in the right shoulder, which may understandably lead the patient to attribute the pain to a non-abdominal cause such as muscle strain.

Symptom versus sign

A symptom can more simply be defined as any feature which is noticed by the patient. A sign is noticed by other people. It is not necessarily the nature of the sign or symptom which defines it, but who observes it.

A feature might be sign or a symptom, or both, depending on the observer(s). For example, a skin rash may be noticed by either a healthcare professional as a sign, or by the patient as a symptom. When it is noticed by both, then the feature is both a sign and a symptom.

Some features, such as pain, can only be symptoms, because they cannot be directly observed by other people. Other features can only be signs, such as a blood cell count measured in a medical laboratory.

Constitutional symptom

A constitutional symptom is a symptom that affects the general well-being or general status of a patient. Examples include weight loss, shaking, chills, fever, malaise and vomiting.[5] It might be an indication that a disease or disorder is affecting the whole body. [5]

For example, cancer may show a paraneoplastic syndrome, mediated by humoral factors (by hormones or cytokines) excreted by tumor cells or by an immune response against the tumor. Another specific example is iron deficiency anemia as constitutional symptom of colorectal cancer, caused by chronic occult bleeding.

See also


  1. ^ Sumptoma, Henry George aaaaLiddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Persues
  2. ^ Pathology - Glossary
  3. ^ eMedicine/Stedman Medical Dictionary Lookup!
  4. ^ Devroede G (1992). "Constipation--a sign of a disease to be treated surgically, or a symptom to be deciphered as nonverbal communication?". J. Clin. Gastroenterol. 15 (3): 189–91. doi:10.1097/00004836-199210000-00003. PMID 1479160.  
  5. ^ a b -> constitutional symptom Retrieved on May 25, 2009


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also symptom



Symptom n.

  1. symptom (indicators and characteristics of the presence of something else)

This German entry was created from the translations listed at symptom. It may be less reliable than other entries, and may be missing parts of speech or additional senses. Please also see Symptom in the German Wiktionary. This notice will be removed when the entry is checked. (more information) June 2008

Simple English

Symptoms are changes in the human body. Symptoms are ways that people feel or ways that their bodies appear. These are things that show if a person has a disease.

  • Pain and red color are symptoms of a skin burn.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea are symptoms of cholera.
  • Pain in the chest and cyanosis (blue color of skin) are symptoms of heart disease.
  • Headaches and nausea are symptoms of the flu.


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