Diseases and Disorders

Disease and Disorder

Last updated on September 9th, 2022 at 07:30 am

Diseases are an inevitable part of life. But what if we could prevent them from happening? Learn about disease and disorder differences and how they affect our lives.

When a doctor suspects you have an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, you may hear them speak about your symptoms and diagnosis in various terms such as disease, disorder, syndrome, and condition. While these terms may seem interchangeable, they all refer to specific states of health.

For better understanding disease and disorder, we are using rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease as an example. 

Difference between disease and disorder

Symptom, syndrome, disorder, disease are all terms used as a hierarchy to classify how our health is affected. The symptoms are the first things we notice that show there might be a problem. When a group of symptoms occurs together, they are classified as a syndrome.

Knowing the syndrome helps doctors analyze your health to determine the disorder. At that point, there is usually no direct implication that the symptoms are caused by one specific thing. When the cause of the disorder is determined, then the diagnosis of the disease can be given.

Receiving a diagnosis of a specific autoimmune disease can take years. You may have clusters of symptoms that make it clear you have an autoimmune disorder of some sort, but no concrete diagnosis. During the time to receive the proper diagnosis, your condition, or how you feel daily, could vary. 

If you are experiencing arthritis symptoms, such as pain in your joints, your doctor may tell you have arthritis. Without knowing the exact cause of your symptoms, you are experiencing an arthritis syndrome or disorder. Often, arthritis syndromes and disorders are referred to simply as arthritis.

Once the cause of your arthritis is discovered, then you will be informed of the disease. All diseases have a specific cause. With rheumatoid arthritis, the cause is the immune system attacking the joints.

What is a disease? 

A disease is a pathological process that doctors can see, touch, and measure. Diseases have particular signs and symptoms. When diagnosing autoimmune diseases, doctors will look for specific symptoms and clinical findings.

For example, rheumatoid arthritis mostly affects the joints, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function. The disease can also cause fatigue, fevers, and loss of appetite.

To determine if your symptoms are caused by rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor will take a full history, complete an exam, and may order other tests such as X-rays and blood tests.

What is a Disorder?

A disorder is characterized by functional impairment and disruption to the body’s normal function and structure. Rheumatoid arthritis is categorized as an autoimmune disorder.

Autoimmune disorders are a group of diseases noted because they cause the immune system to attack the body itself instead of foreign objects entering the body, such as viruses or bacteria. With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the joints.

Disease vs Disorder difference

While these two terms are often used interchangeably by doctors, there are subtle differences. A disease is distinct and measurable.

A disorder might show that a specific disease is possible, but there is not enough clinical evidence for diagnosis. It may be clear you have an autoimmune disorder of some sort, but it may take time to receive a specific diagnosis like rheumatoid arthritis.

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Diseases and Disorders

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Originally published in: verywellhealth

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