(from Greek σύμπτωμα
, "accident, misfortune, that which befalls", 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, observed by the patient, and not measured.
Symptoms may be chronic
. 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 exist for 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".
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
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 the doctor or others. It is not necessarily the nature
of the sign or symptom which defines it, but who
The same feature may be noticed by both doctor and patient, and so is at once both a sign and a symptom. A sign or a symptom may be one, the other, or both, depending on the observer(s).
Some features, such as pain, can only be symptoms. A doctor cannot feel a patient's pain. Others can only be signs, such as a blood cell count measured by a doctor or a laboratory.