The terms “disease” and “disorder” are often used interchangeably. But a recent conversation among colleagues made me reflect on the use of these words and questioned if there actually is a difference.
NORD doesn’t seem to make the distinction, as seen from the definition of rare disorders listed on their website:
What is A Rare Disorder?
A rare or “orphan” disease affects fewer than 200,000 people in the United States. There are more than 6,000 rare disorders that, taken together, affect approximately 25 million Americans.
The definitions are not clearly differentiated in Dorland’s medical dictionary:
- Disease: a definite pathological process having a characteristic set of signs and symptoms. It may affect the whole body or any of its parts, and its etiology, pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown. See also illness, mal, sickness, and syndrome.
- Disorder: a derangement or abnormality of function; a morbid physical or mental state.
It turns out people in the online community are curious as well and are asking for proper terminology via forums and chat rooms. After reading through threads, I’ve noticed that those who do recognize a distinction often describe that a disease is due to extrinsic factors (e.g., virus, bacteria) and a disorder is due to intrinsic abnormalities (e.g., birth defects, genetic malfunction). Do you agree?
Whether or not this designation is accurate, distinctions are definitely made in certain contexts. It’s Parkinson disease, not Parkinson disorder; sleep disorder, not sleep disease. And if you think about it, “heart disease” does have a slightly different connotation from “heart disorder”. For example, a blocked artery can lead to heart disease, whereas an inherently defective heart valve might be classified under heart disorder. Then again, maybe that’s just me.
You say disorder, I say disease. Tomato, tomahto. Whatever you call it, at least one thing’s for sure—they both share the same goal, which is to prevent it, manage it, treat it and/or find a cure.
What do you think? Do you consider disorder and disease synonymous? Or do you think there are apparent differences? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the section below.
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