Definitions of Words Used to Describe Maladies

Epidemiologists use the term "risk factor" to indicate a condition or state factor that is statistically associated with a particular outcome. Risk factors are necessarily causes. The concept of risk factor includes surrogates for underlying causes. Smoking and old age are both risk factors for lung cancer. Old age is a bigger risk factor than smoking - a 60-year-old who has never smoked has a greater chance of being diagnosed with lung cancer than a 25-year-old who smokes half a pack of cigarettes a day. However, being old doesn’t cause lung cancer. Tobacco smoke causes lung cancer.

Many of the characteristic diseases of old age, having lived a long time is a risk factor, not a cause. Old age is a risk factor for dementia and heart disease. There are other causes of those diseases, even if all causes are not understood.

Etiology refers to the cause of a disease or condition. Sometimes it is used to describe the mechanism of disease development Etiology means cause - of a disease or symptom or anything else.

A syndrome is a cluster of symptoms which is not well defined enough to be a disease.

A disease is a deviation from a biological norm. Diseases are identified and defined in the medical literature. A new disease is not classified as disease until something is understood about them or until an agreement is made about what the boundaries of the disease are. But for the most part, a disease is almost always something with objective changes in the body that can be observed by others, especially doctors.

Illness is more subjective - a feeling by a person that something isn’t right.

One paradigm is that disease is a condition we seek to cure while illness is a condition we need to manage. They can occur together. Public health guru Eric Cassell said: “Disease is something an organ has. Illness is something a man has.”

How do we classify illness of the elderly?

Nowadays most people die from age-related diseases rather from equal opportunity diseases (small pox, plague) that got people in the past, or starvation or accidents. This is why life expectancy has risen over the centuries - people are much less likely to die in childhood or a young adult and wait until old age before giving up the ghost.

Heart disease and cancer are diseases. Smoking is a risk factor for both. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a condition, not a disease, and it is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Dementia is a disease. Frailty syndrome and metabolic syndrome are syndromes, obviously. The geriatric syndromes are syndromes.

You might ask why do we care so much about geriatric syndromes if they don’t kill many people. Well, medicine is more than just about saving lives. It’s about quality of life, too, and geriatric syndromes can have negative impacts. Further, geriatric syndromes can lead to - directly or indirectly - serious diseases. In this sense they are risk factors for many of the causes of death.

Let's classify common maladies of the elderly

Adult onset diabetes - disease

Alzheimer's Disease - disease

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) - disease

Arrhythmia of the Heart - condition

Arthritis - disease (arthritis is an umbrella term for many joint diseases) - an estimated 31 percent of Medicare patients get arthritis treatment

Atrial Fibrillation - condition

Autism - disorder

Bedsores (pressure ulcers) - syndrome

Bipolar Disorder (Manic-depressive illness) - disorder

Cancer - disease (cancer is an umbrella term for many diseases)

Cataracts - condition

Chronic Kidney Failure - disease

COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - disease

Diabetes - disease

Enlarged prostate - condition

Fibromyalgia - disorder

Glaucoma - disease

Heart Disease - disease

Hepatitis - disease

HIV/AIDS - disease

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) - condition

Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) - disease

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) - disease

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) - syndrome

Incontinence, Urinary - condition

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) - disease

Kidney Failure, Chronic - condition

Leukemia - disease

Liver Failure, Acute - condition

Liver Spots (Age Spots) - condition

Lupus - disease

Lymphoma, Hodgkin's (Hodgkin's disease) - disease

Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin's - disease

Macular degeneration - disease

Melanoma, Skin Cancer - disease

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) - disease

Obstructive Sleep Apnea - disease

Osteoarthritis - disease

Osteoporosis - disease

Pancreatic Cancer - disease

Parkinson's Disease - disease

Periodontitis - disease

Pneumonia - disease

Polypharmacy - syndrome

Rheumatoid Arthritis - disease

Staph Infection - disease

Stroke - disease

Thrush, Oral - condition

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) - disease

Tuberculosis (TB) - disease

Ulcerative Colitis - disease

Vascular Dementia - disease

Vertigo - disorder

In Spanish: Palabras para Describir Nuestra Salud