5 Differences between symptom and sign

In medicine, it is common for doubts to arise regarding the differences between a symptom and a sign. Understand the meaning of both concepts to facilitate the diagnosis of diseases and other medical conditions. Although they maintain a close relationship, each of them refers to unique characteristics and peculiarities that arise when there is a change in the operation of the system.

The term symptom is used to refer to those changes that occur in the body of patients that only they are able to notice. That is, the symptoms have an objective character, which also cannot necessarily be detected by means of a medical examination or by another person. The identification of the symptoms also depends on people’s tolerance to pain, for example, also the ability to perceive these same changes.

The term sign is usually interpreted as a characteristic that is outstanding, it is used to describe an element or a particular aspect of a person’s health. Within the field of medicine, the sign is everything that can be identified from the performance of a physical examination . It can also be found through a laboratory test and other types of medical tests.

Considering that there is a great variety of symptoms and signs, it is normal for confusion to arise between the two terms . However, it is important to note the differences as to whether these are reactions that have a short duration or are manifestations that only the patient is able to describe.

Both can be considered as objective manifestations , but nevertheless they must have the validation of medical personnel to be able to integrate them into a clinical picture. What are their similarities and differences are discussed below.

What is a symptom?

A symptom is generally defined as a particular nine-zero characteristic associated with a medical condition . They are elements that are manifestations that an important change is occurring in the body that affects health. By grouping several of them together, it is possible to monitor and diagnose a disease.

Also a symptom can be considered as a reaction that arises from a particular stimulus. This means that if a person has one or more symptoms in their system, they are developing a disease or other condition that causes significant repercussions that damage their health .

There is a diverse variety of types of symptoms, each one of them has the peculiarity of affecting people in different ways. In other words, it is difficult to quantify or qualify the degree of severity that a symptom can cause in the long term. People react differently to pain, for example, which means that some will have a lower tolerance for pain.

The symptoms not only affect people causing pain, they can also cause a physical limitation that affects mobility. Some others are manifested from changes in the functioning or performance of some vital functions of the body.

What is a sign?

A sign is defined as a manifestation that has a subjective character, these can only be formally identified after performing a medical examination. This means that the signs are generally regarded as clinically reliable elements . These are detected after specialized medical personnel have carried out the corresponding tests that are adapted to the patient’s condition.

It is normal that a sign has been confused with a symptom because both describe manifestations that are directly related to certain diseases. But symptoms are only signs or changes that people themselves are able to describe, perceive and feel .

The clinical symptomatology is the branch of medicine that studies the clinical signs formally. This discipline allows medical personnel to differentiate between symptoms, signs and also clinical signs . You can acquire the required knowledge that allows you to conduct research and examine patients by combining physical and psychological procedures.

Generally the signs are related to reactions that have a short duration . Signs such as coughs, hiccups, and sneezes are included in this category; All of them are manifestations that an action is taking place within the system that generates said reaction. This means that the signs do not necessarily signal the development of a disease or other permanent condition.

What are their differences? 

The main characteristics that help to differentiate between a symptom and a sign are described below. They are as follows:

  1. A sign is described as a manifestation of a disease or other condition that has an objective character . It can be confirmed by conducting a physical exam, laboratory examination, and other types of medical evaluations. Instead, a symptom can only be perceived and described by the patient himself.
  2. A sign is of greater relevance to physicians because they display reliable and convincing information . Instead, the symptoms always depend on the perception of the patients and how they tolerate these manifestations.
  3. When a diagnosis is made, more attention is paid to the signs because this serves as an indication and thus makes a hypothesis that is closer to a definitive diagnosis. The symptoms present the difficulty that they cannot be measured or qualified , this is the case of pain and fatigue.
  4. The signs can sometimes be perceived and identified by other people . This means that the changes that were being made in a person’s body significantly harm their physical health. Instead, the symptoms are only manifestations and reactions that are detectable by the patient himself.
  5. The signs can also be some type of physical injury that affects the functioning of a mechanism by limiting movement. You can even take shortness of breath as an example, which is also considered to be a sign. Instead, symptoms are often identified as sensations.

Finally, it is important to mention that the signs cannot register important modifications or changes in a short period of time. However, symptoms eventually begin to be described in different ways which indicates how patients perceive or experience them. Both symptoms and signs affect people differently, it is subjective to understand how these affect the health of patients to the point of seeking medical attention.

It is also important to consider that the symptoms sometimes have a prolongation that is variable , which means that sometimes patients resort to the help of different medical specialties. On the other hand, the signs tend to show positive evolutions more quickly after having properly identified a definitive treatment.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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