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.”
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