Difference between Syndrome and Disease

Updated on September 14, 2017

When it comes to medical terms, we like to take the experts’ word for it and repeat what the expert says. Therefore, everybody knows that there is such a thing as Down Syndrome, but very few people would know to tell you why saying Down Disease instead is wrong. Curious why that is? Keep reading this article.


child with Down Syndrome
A child with Down Syndrome

Doctors refer to a syndrome as being a set of symptoms and medical signs that occur together. The main thing about a syndrome is the fact that its cause remains unknown. Most syndromes are named after the doctors who discovered them, like Down and Andersen.

The word “syndrome” comes from Greek and it means “run together.” It refers to the fact that, even without a common cause, the same symptoms occur together in the affected individuals. Therefore, since the cause of the symptoms is not know, most syndromes remain without a treatment. Some of the most common syndromes people suffer from are the polycystic and irritable bowel syndrome. In these cases, all doctors can do is to prescribe medications that control the symptoms. All medication needs to be updated and kept in check periodically.

Lyme disease
A tick bite that could cause Lyme disease

A disease is a condition that affects an organism and has a known cause. It has associated symptoms and signs and the treatment recommended is based on the cause. There are different types of diseases, judging by their cause: infectious (caused by an infection), genetic (caused by the genetic material of a person), deficiency, and psychological diseases.

The presence of a disease in an organism is usually marked by the presence of a consistent group of symptoms, changes in the body determined by these symptoms, and the existence of a common cause.

Syndrome vs Disease

So what is the difference between a syndrome and a disease?

The main difference between the two consists in the cause of the symptoms. Therefore, while a syndrome is a set of symptoms of unknown cause, the disease is a set of symptoms of a known cause. Consequently, the disease can be treated by addressing the cause, while doctors can only prescribe medicine to keep symptoms in check in the case of syndromes.

Comparison Chart

A set of symptoms with an unknown causeA set of symptoms with a known cause
Medicine is prescribed to control the symptomsMedicine is prescribed to control the cause
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