Difference between disease and syndrome

Disease and syndrome

The terms syndrome and disease can cause confusion when a layperson seeks a doctor. But is there really a difference between the two?

The word syndrome is derived from the Greek (syndromé = meeting, contest), which in medicine is translated as a morbid state (ill, sick, related to the disease) characterized by a cluster of symptoms and clinical signs, which may result from more than a cause. In other words, the syndrome is not a disease, but a medical condition. This condition is also called a syndrome or syndrome.

The word disease comes from the Latin (dolentia = suffering), which means that there is a disturbance of the functions of an organ, psyche or the organism as a whole that is related to specific symptoms. Its etiology may reside in external factors, such as infections caused by pathogenic agents or by internal dysfunctions or malformations, as is the case with autoimmune diseases . Briefly, the disease must meet the following criteria, unlike the syndrome:

  • Recognized etiology (cause);
  • Identifiable group of signs and symptoms;
  • Consistent anatomical changes.

So far, the underlying reason behind the syndromes has not been clearly understood. For this reason, they are considered a kind of medical mystery. In contrast, the reason or cause behind a disease can be elucidated easily.

A complicating factor is that certain diseases can trigger a particular syndrome, so a thorough investigation into the cause of the problem is necessary. Although the syndromes do not indicate the presence of some diseases, such as mental ones, they can manifest in the form of some syndromes.

Since the reason behind most of the syndromes cannot be elucidated, this condition is definitively addressed, through the temporary use of drugs that help to control the symptoms. In the case of a disease, a definitive diagnostic and treatment procedure is not established for all conditions.

What is a disease?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines disease as “the alteration or deviation of the physiological state in one or several parts of the body, for generally known causes, manifested by characteristic symptoms and signs, and whose evolution is more or less predictable” . It is an integral part of life, just like health.

A disease can be caused by exogenous causes (shocks, bacteria, viruses, environmental conditions) or endogenous (autoimmune attacks or cancer cells). In humans, this set of physiological dysfunctions manifest with pain, distress, social problems and even loss of life.

The disease is characterized by appearing with objective and tangible signs (such as fever ) and with subjective symptoms of the patient, such as pain. There are also pathologies (or phases) that are asymptomatic In this last group, the disease produces physiological changes, but they are not tangible in part of the evolution (especially at the beginning).

For a disease to be such, it must meet at least 2 of these 3 requirements:

  1. Have a recognizable cause: the etiological agent must be registered or at least hypothesized. There are many diseases that are considered idiopathic (their cause is unknown), but at least the processes that lead to them are identified to a variable degree.
  2. Show an identifiable set of signs and symptoms:  although the perception of each patient is different, every disease has a series of common signs. Pathognomonic signs are those that unequivocally show the presence of a pathology.
  3. Present consistent anatomical alterations: a person may have back pain for 2-3 days, although it is not considered pathological if it is temporary and resolves on its own. The consistency of the signs defines what is a disease and what is not.

As you can see, not all the ailments that humans feel are diseases in the strictest sense of the word. For example, headache is not a pathology in itself, but a symptom that indicates (or not) an underlying abnormal process.

What is Syndrome:

The word syndrome refers to the set of symptoms that define or characterize a disease or a condition that manifests itself in a subject and that may or may not have known causes . As a general rule, the term is associated with negative states, revealed through a certain set of phenomena or signs.

There is an immense variety of duly identified syndromes. These can refer to both organic health conditions and unhealthy behavior patterns, which is why the term is widely used in medicine, psychiatry, psychology and social psychology.

Among the most well-known syndromes, the following can be mentioned:

  • Down’s Syndrome;
  • irritable bowel syndrome;
  • Tourette syndrome;
  • abstinence syndrome;
  • Asperger syndrome;
  • wasting syndrome;
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome;
  • Stockholm syndrome;
  • Peter Pan syndrome;
  • housewife syndrome;
  • Jerusalem syndrome.

How many syndromes are there?

There are various types of syndromes that affect millions of people, each of them with different particularities from their etiology to their clinical picture, some of them are:

  • Down syndrome is a genetic disorder of chromosome pair 21 that generates intellectual and developmental delay. They have a typical physical appearance, may include heart or thyroid disease.
  • Asperger ‘s Syndrome is a disorder that comprises a set of mental and behavioral characteristics forming part of the autistic spectrum.
  • Obstructive syndromes cover the various situations in which the flow in the airways increases, which causes an overload of work for the respiratory muscles. within the characteristics is dyspnea , dry cough, use of accessory muscles of respiration.
  • Anemic syndrome is a disorder characterized by decreased functional hemoglobin below normal limits. It produces tissue hypoxia and a decrease in hematocrit. it is characterized by symptoms of muscle fatigue, anorexia, tachycardia, drowsiness, asthenia.
  • Extrapyramidal syndromes are due to the compromise from the anatomical and physiological point of view of the extrapyramidal system that is constituted by the basal ganglia and their connections. They manifest with movement disorders (chorea, myoclonus , tremors, etc.), muscle tone disorders ( hypertonia and hypotonia ) and posture disorders.
  • Turner syndrome is a genetic condition, which affects the female sex, they only have one X chromosome or they are missing a part of one of their X chromosomes. They are characterized by abnormal bone development, especially in the bones of the hands and elbows, low ears, lack of breast development at the expected age, amenorrhea.
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome are alterations that can occur when the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow become abnormal cells, it is considered a type of cancer.
  • Nephritic syndrome is caused by an immune response triggered by an infection or other disease, it is characterized by a sudden decrease in the glomerular filtration rate and fluid retention, which in turn causes edema and arterial hypertension.

Difference Between Syndrome and Disease

Syndromes may be related to one or more diseases. This implies that syndrome and disease are not synonyms and, in fact, are different concepts. Let’s see:

To begin with, a syndrome is a picture of known and identified symptoms and signs that may have one or more causes, not necessarily biological ones. As a general rule, syndromes do not develop anatomical alterations in the subject who suffers from them.

A disease has a biological cause and generates recognizable changes in the body, that is, it alters the state of physical health. In addition, it may happen that the disease does not have a specific cause or that it is not known.

An example of this may be the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (” AIDS” ). This syndrome suppresses the body’s immunity, that is, it inhibits the self-defense system. Those who suffer from it are exposed to suffering from diseases that are a consequence of this condition, but it is these diseases that, in effect, deteriorate their body even though the cause is in the syndrome.

Down syndrome is another good example. It is a syndrome whose origin is known although its cause is not known, but people who have this syndrome are not considered sick. In other words, it is a condition and not a disease.

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