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Definition of Disease PDF Print E-mail
Written by Allen Lawrence, M.D.   
Wednesday, 10 September 2008 03:38
Disease is any condition or group of conditions, sickness or illness which has a characteristic and defined grouping of symptoms and causes, and which affect all or part of the body.

A disease is often thought of as an abnormal condition of an organism (human or otherwise) that impairs bodily functions. In human beings, the term “disease” is often used more broadly to refer to any condition that causes discomfort, dysfunction, distress, social problems, illness and/or death to the person afflicted, or problems for those in contact with that person. In this broader sense, it sometimes includes injuries, disabilities, disorders, syndromes, infections, isolated symptoms, deviant behaviors, and atypical variations of structure and function, while in other contexts and for other purposes these may be considered distinguishable categories. As human beings we often think of diseases as one of man's “greatest enemy.” The terms: illness, sickness, disease, disorder, and medical condition are often used interchangeably.

Disease can also be thought of as the presence of pathology, that is abnormal changes in tissues, blood, bodily fluids, x-ray or other diagnostic testing. This may occur with or without subjective feelings of being unwell or social recognition of this state. Simply stated an individual does not have to feel or look sick to have a disease. Having a pathology refers to having a distortion, injury or abnormality of physical (bodily anatomy or micro-anatomy), hormonal, neuro-electrical, bio-chemical or functional abnormalities or dysfunctions. As suggested above something that can be sought after, measured and proven.

Loss of Wellness

While illness is a subjective state of “unwellness” which can occur independently of, or in conjunction with disease or sickness. This is sometimes complicated by the fact that sickness may occur independently of the presence or absence of disease or subjective medical findings, for example “sea sickness” is not really a disease and there are generally no anatomical or physiologic pathologies, but only an imbalance or temporary disturbance of normal anatomy which will soon repair itself. Disease, on the other hand, is characterized by specific abnormalities which can be defined on physical examination, by blood testing, by radiology or other diagnostic testing. Thus, someone with undetected high blood pressure (that is, their blood pressure is elevated even though it has not been taken nor recorded as elevated, and the individual may be unaware that it is in fact elevated) may feel and experience that they are in “good health,” they would be considered to have a disease, yet neither ill or sick. Someone with a diagnosis of late-stage cancer would be diseased and would probably be feeling quite ill. It is likely that their illness would be recognized by others and that they would be seen as being ill. An individual who has merely had a bad day, after a night of excess drinking, might feel ill, but would not be diseased unless addiction (alcoholism) exists.

Disease and its Causative Factors

There are many factors which have recognized as leading to or causing disease. These can be broadly categorized into categories such as: social, psychological, spiritual, environmental, anatomical, physiological, chemical and biological. Many factors, both internal and external, can lead to or cause disease. Examples of internal factors may be genetic defects or nutritional deficiencies (which by the way is also an external factor, based on how one chooses the foods they eat). An environmental exposure, such as second-hand smoke or exposure to toxic chemicals are examples of external factors. Many diseases result from a combination of both internal or external factors.

For many diseases no specific cause can be identified. Some factors may fall into more than one category.

Biochemical causes of disease can be considered as a spectrum where at one extreme disease is caused entirely by genetic factors while at the other extreme it may be caused entirely by environmental factors. To determine whether a disease is caused by genetic factors, researchers must study the pattern of inheritance of the disease within the families involved or find classic evidence of genetic abnormalities on genetic testing.

Environmental factors include toxic chemicals (e.g. acetaldehyde in cigarette smoke and dioxins released from the breakdown of Agent Orange) and infectious agents (e.g. bacteria, viruses or parasites) are common reasons for both illness and disease.

Disease and Genetics

While a large number of genes have been identified as contributing to human disease, it is not always the presence of the gene that leads to the final manifestation of the disease. For example, many people may have the gene which predisposes them to diabetes, yet they may not be diabetics because they eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and maintain an appropriate body weight. Only when their diet changes and is deficient in certain essential nutrients or their body weight moves past a critical point will they begin to manifest symptoms of diabetes and become an overt diabetic.

The same is true for certain cancers. An individual can have the gene that predisposes them to develop cancer or even a specific type of cancer, yet other factors may be necessary to set the gene into action to produce the expected cancer. In many cases, if these factors are reversed or returned to the normal range the diabetes or cancer may cease to be a problem and the individual may be said to have been healed.

Toxic Chemicals

We live in world where we are surrounded by and invaded by many toxic chemicals. We all know about cigarette smoke, alcohol, illegal drugs, smog, however there are a host of other toxic chemicals in the air we breath, in the foods we eat, and in the water we drink. May people are exposed to toxic chemicals while at work while others simply in the normal activities of their daily living.

Radiation, Sound and Light

Every day we are affected by radiation from our sun (causing aging of skin, melanoma), however radiation can also come to us from the soil around us, radioactive substances in food, water and in the air. Sound waves can cause damage not only to our hearing but to our basic electrical nature. Light also carries high energy particles that can affect us in many different ways.

Food and Water

Pollution of water by toxic chemicals, bacteria, toxic minerals and man-made chemicals not only affects us directly when we drink this water, but may also be taken up and integrally contaminate the plants and live stock, and other sources of foods we eat and water we drink. Today most foods that are grown are picked early and hence are reasonably deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. Live stock is injected with antibiotics and steroids hence when we eat them we may be affected or even poisoned by these chemicals, whether or not they are natural or man made.


Injury is a common cause of illness, disease, disability and even death. Some injuries are accidental and some are self-inflicted such as in attempted suicide. Some are industrial and related to work while others occur during living life such as automobile injuries, hunting injuries, household injuries, etc.


Scientific studies have suggested that 70% to 80% of all illness and disease seen in medical practice is created by or worsened by stress. Stress can come from many sources but is always mediated and potentiated by the individual his or herself. Stress generally creates illness in a step wise fashion. First creating distress and gradually, as the conflict which is causing the stress is not resolved, leading to disease, and finally to chronic disease.

Acute and Intermediate Disease

Acute disease is characterized by a rapid onset, This can be minutes to weeks. Intermediate disease can be characterized not by its time of onset but by its length of stay. It occurs rapidly or slowly but persists. It is also defined by the fact that it can be fully reversed if the correct cause is identified and the reasons for its occurrence are treated appropriately.

Chronic Disease

This is characterized by two factors: 1) its long period of onset, weeks, months or years and 2) the path from illness (acute or slow onset) worsening progressively until it creates irreversible injury or damage to the body, health and wellness of the individual. Once the disease process has caused irreversible damage, it is said to be a chronic disease. Chronic can also refer to an intermediate disease which is either not treated, poorly treated or the cause and factors involved are not reversed, and hence it lasts for a very long time even if there is no irreversible physical damage created to the body or the person.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 September 2008 15:51