A symptom is a sign or sign or (typical) characteristic ( characteristic of a disease) for an illness or injury . It can be recorded by an examiner in the form of a finding or reported by the patient himself as a complaint . The symptom is the smallest unit of investigation that can be described in medicine. The term symptom is derived from ancient Greek σύμπτωμα symptoma = 'coincidental circumstance' (consisting of συν syn = 'together' and πτῶμα ptoma = 'case').
The totality of the symptoms resulting from a disease process results in the symptomatology (also called clinical picture or clinic ). Subjective symptoms are signs of illness that can be perceived by the person concerned. Objective symptoms (or clinical signs ), on the other hand, are externally perceptible signs of illness. Typical combinations of symptoms occurring at the same time are called a syndrome ("symptom association").
Clear symptoms are usually noticed by the patient himself and give him cause to seek medical or psychotherapeutic advice. Discreet and hidden symptoms, on the other hand, often only become apparent after a detailed questioning in the context of the anamnesis or through a physical examination . Many diseases are preceded by a more or less extensive so-called preclinical phase without specific symptoms.
It is often sufficient to collect the main symptom (the most significant sign of an illness or injury ) and a few other symptoms to make a diagnosis and initiate appropriate therapy . In less clear cases, additional examinations (e.g. using laboratory diagnostics or imaging methods ) are required to obtain sufficient results.
Definition of related terms
The expression “finding” is often used synonymously with the expression “symptom” in everyday language. However, the terms distinguish the following:
- Findings contain the empirical character (the “being able to be found”) of recorded features.
- Symptom, on the other hand, contains the character of a feature as an indication of a disease.
Symptomatic findings are findings that are characteristic (pathognomonic) of the diagnosis of a particular well-known disease. The term “symptomatic” is also used to delimit specific somatic illnesses (e.g. from mentally related disorders). Inthis sense, a symptomatic psychosis is an organically conditioned (i.e. physically justifiable) psychosis , e.g. B. as a result of an accident-related brain injury.
Even clinical pictures that are difficult to classify nosologically, such as the so-called functional syndromes, are viewed as organic in nature because of the term “symptomatic”. If one wants to emphasize that certain functional syndromes are in no way organic, they are called "essential functional disorders". The term "essential" means that the etiological and pathogenetic classification is unclear.
Symptomatic therapy methods combat the symptoms of an illness directly because a causal treatment ("causal") is not possible or not necessary (for example, alleviation of high fever in the case of viral infections or in the case of palliative measures).
A distinction is made between objective and subjective symptoms:
- Objective symptoms are the individual pathological findings ascertained or recorded by the examiner or the information on the disease reported by a third person (e.g. relatives). In this sense z. B. also differentiated between personal and third-party anamnesis .
- Subjective symptoms are the symptoms named by the patient himself.
The group of symptoms characteristic of a very specific clinical picture is called the symptom complex. However, "symptom complex" is also used differently from this definition, namely synonymous with syndrome (if cause and disease development ( etiology and pathogenesis ) are unclear). A related term is triad of symptoms (= three typical symptoms).
Gerd Huber has referred to the same or similar symptoms that arise due to etiologically and pathogenetically different disease triggers as an expression community of symptoms.
Under prodromal symptoms to nonspecific precursor symptoms of an infectious disease is understood (z. B. limb pain, weakness, and fever).
- Duden.de: Keyword symptom
- Clinic not only refers to the place where the sick are observed, examined and treated, but includes everything that is connected with the observation, examination and treatment of sick people. Quoted according to Gernot Huppmann, Reinhold Ahr: Erich Stern (1889–1959) and medical psychology: an ergobiographical sketch. In: Medical historical messages. Journal for the history of science and specialist prose research. Volume 34, 2015 (2016), pp. 137–155, here: p. 152.
- Rolf-Dieter Stieglitz (2008): Diagnostics and Classification in Psychiatry . Cape. 4.2, p. 44f, Kohlhammer Verlag. ISBN 9783170189447
- Thure von Uexküll u. a. (Ed.): Psychosomatic Medicine . 3. Edition. Urban & Schwarzenberg, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-541-08843-5 , p. 491.
- functional complaints . In: Uwe Henrik Peters : Dictionary of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology . 3. Edition. Urban & Schwarzenberg, Munich 1984, p. 203.
- Eberhard Aulbert, Lukas Radbruch , Friedemann Nauck: Treatment of symptoms in palliative medicine. In: Eberhard Aulbert, Friedemann Nauck, Lukas Radbruch (eds.): Textbook of palliative medicine. Schattauer, Stuttgart (1997) 3rd, updated edition 2012, ISBN 978-3-7945-2666-6 , pp. 137-174.
- Roche Lexicon Medicine. 5th edition. Urban & Fischer, 2003, ISBN 3-437-15157-6 , Lex.-Lemma “Symptomenkomplex” Gesundheit.de/roche
- Gerd Huber : Psychiatry. Systematic teaching text for students and doctors. FK Schattauer Verlag, Stuttgart 1974, ISBN 3-7945-0404-6 , pp. 40, 165, 246, 252.