Disease vs. Illness




What is the difference? Take a few moments to think over your definition of disease and your definition of illness . In February and March of 1987, I participated in a nursing study tour of Kenya, Africa. In addition to studying cross-cultural definitions of health and illness and how they influence nurse-patient interaction, we discussed the distinction between “disease” and “illness” as conceptual framework for care. As Touch For Health Instructors we have an opportunity to play an important role in helping others deal with illness. First let us define disease and illness. DISEASE is the diagnosis of sickness via a bio-medical model. ILLNESS is sickness from the patient’s point of view. Many hours can be spent in discussion of which comes first – each person’s case is unique and must be handled as such. A patient, often, does not become ill until he is given a “disease” diagnosis. For example, a person may feel in good health and after a routine visit to the doctor learn he has a tumor and immediately he becomes ill and many other symptoms appear. Another person may con- stantly complain of illness they feel they are suffering and have a medical examination and be disease free.

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