Disease, Disorder Or Syndrome: What Is The Difference?

Although disease, disorder, and syndrome are often used interchangeably, there are underlying differences that make them different from one another

Shubhangi Shah
Written by: Shubhangi ShahUpdated at: Sep 07, 2021 18:03 IST
Disease, Disorder Or Syndrome: What Is The Difference?

If you go to a doctor, for let us say an upset stomach, chances are the doctor might speak about disease, disorder, and syndrome. To a layman, they all sound similar. They all mean that there is something wrong with the body for which you need medical supervision and maybe some medicines. However, the three, although often used interchangeably, are different from one another, in their kind of diagnosis, prevention, and cure. So, let us see what disease, disorder, and syndrome are and how they are different from one another. 

What Is A Disease?

Merriam Webster defines a disease as “a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.” Thus, in disease, either the whole disease or a part of it gets affected such that it is unable to perform functions normally. Also, displays distinguishable signs and symptoms, and often there is a specific cause.

Chicken pox is a disease

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Let us take chickenpox as an example. It is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It has very distinct symptoms that include fever, headache, fatigue, and most importantly itchy rashes and fluid-filled blisters. COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, is another example of disease.

Other examples include:

  • Cancer
  • Measles
  • Malaria
  • Pneumonia
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

Also read: Nutrition For Mental Health: Here’s What To Have For A Healthy Mind

What Is A Disorder?

Dictionary.com defines the disorder as “a disturbance in physical or mental health or functions.” In other words, in the case of a disorder, there is an abnormality or impairment in the normal functioning of the mind or body.

Eating disorder makes you eat either less or more

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For example, in the case of an eating disorder, the person’s normal eating pattern gets disrupted, and he/she ends up eating either too much or too little. There are other effects as well. The cause is not as specific as in the case of chickenpox and differs from person to person. The doctor generally delves into the patient’s personal and medical history to figure out the cause.

Other examples include

  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Sleep disorders, such as insomnia and hypersomnia 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

What Is A Syndrome?

Merrian Webster defines a syndrome as “a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterise a particular abnormality or condition.” In other words, in a syndrome, several symptoms occur together and are correlated to each other. An example is Tourette syndrome, which is characterised by repetitive movements, distinct sounds, along jerky movements. Other examples include:

  • Down syndrome 
  • Capgras syndrome
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Polycystic Ovary syndrome
  • Weber's syndrome

Also read: Asperger’s Syndrome: Know Symptoms, Causes and Treatment Options Of This Syndrome

Now that you have understood the difference, it is equally important to understand that neither is worse or better than the other. All these affect a person’s normal functioning affecting his/her life in a big way. What is needed is the supervision of a good medical practitioner that would help the person to recover from them or manage the symptoms. However, knowing the difference between the three helps as it will help you better know and get a clear picture of your condition and make you better informed. This, in turn, will help you make better decisions regarding your health and help you in the long run. 

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