Signs vs. Symptoms

A symptom is actually a manifestation of a disease which a person feels who is suffering from the disease while a sign is a manifestation of disease perceived  by the physician or any other person.

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Signs vs. Symptoms

While talking about diseases , there are two types of revelations which indicate the presence of a particular disease.  A Sign is the expression of a disease in the body of a person apparent only to  himself. For example, a person if having a headache or a sore throat. One is suffering from joint pain. One is feeling difficulty in seeing the things. One is having a backache. All these are manifestations which are not felt by any other one except the patient. Thus , these manifestations are termed as “Symptoms” of the diseases.

While talking on the other hand, Signs are the expressions of diseases perceived by other persons or physician. For example , if a person has a sore throat, the physician examines his throat using a torch for inside examination by keeping tongue depressor on his tongue. If he sees redness and swelling of the pharynx , he terms this condition as acute pharyngitis . If there is swelling of tonsils , he attributes it to as acute tonsillitis. Redness and swelling noted by the physician, in this case, are signs of the disease. Similarly, if a person is feeling difficulty in seeing the things he goes to an ophthalmologist  who notices the opacity in the lens of his eye and diagnoses this condition as cataract. Thus opacity of lens noted by the ophthalmologist, in this case, is the sign of the disease. If the person having joint pain and stiffness goes to the physician he examines the different signs of different types of arthritis, i.e. rheumatoid arthritis , gouty arthritis and osteoarthritis for correct diagnosis Signs of rheumatoid arthritis are , involvement of small joints of hand and feet , swan neck like deformity of joints of hand , morning stiffness lasting for 20 to 30 minutes and rheumatoid nodules on the extensor surface of forearm. Typical Sign of gouty arthritis is the presence of a tophus in the joint of a big toe. A tophus is an inflamed area present around the joint of the big toe and typical sign of gout. Signs of osteoarthritis are the involvement of large joints like hip , knee and presence of swelling around the joint. Thus signs of a disease help physician or relevant specialist to reach the correct diagnosis.

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A disease cannot be diagnosed solely from symptoms. Signs help the physician to reach the diagnosis. We can say that signs are the alarm for a particular disease.

Another difference between signs and symptoms is that symptoms can be felt by any person, but signs can notice only the doctor or the person of relevant speciality. Symptoms of many diseases may be of the same type but signs are particular for each disease for example opacity of the crystalline lens is particular for cataract.

Comparison Chart

Character Symptoms Signs
Definition. The symptom is a manifestation of a disease perceived by the affected person. The sign is a manifestation of a disease perceived by any other person.
Help in diagnosis Diagnosis cannot be made solely by symptoms. Diagnosis can be made by the particular signs of disease.
Perception Symptoms can perceive any person. Signs can perceive  only a physician or relevant specialist.
Demonstration Symptoms are vague demonstration of a disease. Signs are a clear demonstration of a disease.
Type of state The symptom is a subjective state. The sign is an objective state.
Relation to disease Symptoms of many diseases may be the same type. Signs are specific related to diseases.
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What are Symptoms?

Symptoms represent the complaint of the patient and if severe , compel him to go to the doctor. If only light symptoms are present , he may treat them by himself. For example a headache or nausea.

The patient receives the subjective state of dysfunction of body or discomfort for example if he is unable to move his right arm for last 3 days or he has generalized body rashes and aches. These expressions of generalized body dysfunctions are actually called symptoms.

What are Signs?

A sign is an objective evidence of disease. Only a physician , a health care provider or relevant specialist can truly manifest it. For example , a patient goes to the doctor and explains his symptoms; he may say , “Doctor , I am unable to move my arm for last 3 days” . Or he may complain , “Doctor, I have generalized body rashes and aches for last 10 days.” The doctor takes the detailed history of the symptoms, performs a general physical examination that includes feeling pulse , taking blood pressure , noting the temprature and counting the respiratory rate. He checks his heart beat by stethoscope. He can subject the patient by various methods and can examine various body cavities. He palpates and percusses the body at many parts. If he feels necessary , he can suggest some diagnostic tests. All these modalities help the physician to note signs of any disease present in the body of the patient and reach the final and correct diagnoses.

Examples of Signs and Symptoms of Some diseases.

1.Feeling itching in the ear is a symptom felt by the patient.

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The physician examines the ear and watches white cheesy material in the ear covering the tympanic membrane. This is the sign of fungal infection in the ear (Otomycosis).

2. Ear discharge is a symptom manifested by the patient. The physician examines the ear notices the rupture of tympanic membrane which is a sign of otitis media.

3. A person feels redness and irritation in the eye. It is a sign. He goes to an ophthalmologist who notices prominent blood vessels in the eye radiating from limbus towards the back. It is a sign of scleritis.

4. If a person notices black halos in front of eyes. He goes to an eye specialist who examines the eye with ophthalmoscope and retinoscope. He notices retinal detachment which is a sign.

5. A person feels joint pain and stiffness which is a symptom. He goes to the physician who notices the tophus around the big toe joint. It is a sign of gout.


In the above article, we see the clear difference between signs and symptoms. Signs and symptoms are the manifestations of a disease and not the disease itself. They help the doctor to reach the correct diagnosis of the disease and treat the patient accordingly.

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