6 Illness and disease
Although clearly related, the concepts of illness and disease are distinct. People have illness and physicians diagnose and treat disease. Disease is an objective term which implies a malfunctioning of the body or part of the body. Disease is pathological and is diagnosed on the basis of recognisable signs and symptoms. Illness is the subjective experience of pain, discomfort or disorder. Although it is mostly safe to say that illness is the subjective experience of disease, it is possible to experience illness without having a disease and it is possible to have a disease and not feel ill.
Activity 10: Experiencing illness
Think of a time when you were ill. Note down what it felt like.
Can you think of an illness experience which is not disease related and can you think of a disease which may not make you feel ill? If you are a health practitioner you should try to think of particular examples from your practice.
It is quite common to have headaches or feel sick without any evidence of a disease. And there are diseases such as congenital heart disease, or Type 2 diabetes which may not give rise to symptoms.
We will return to your experience of illness after we have analysed the concept of illness further.