Refinement of diagnosis and disease classification in psychiatry

  • Yves LecrubierEmail author


Knowledge concerning the classification of mental disorders progressed substantially with the use of DSM III-IV and IDCD 10 because it was based on observed data, with precise definitions. These classifications a priori avoided to generate definitions related to etiology or treatment response. They are based on a categorical approach where diagnostic entities share common phenomenological features. Modifications proposed or discussed are related to the weak validity of the classification strategy described above. (a) Disorders are supposed to be independent but the current coexistence of two or more disorders is the rule; (b) They also are supposed to have stability, however anxiety disorders most of the time precede major depression. For GAD age at onset, family history, biology and symptomatology are close to those of depression. As a consequence broader entities such as depression-GAD spectrum, panic-phobias spectrum and OCD spectrum including eating disorders and pathological gambling are taken into consideration; (c) Diagnostic categories use thresholds to delimitate a border with normals. This creates “subthreshold” conditions. The relevance of such conditions is well documented. Measuring the presence and severity of different dimensions, independent from a threshold, will improve the relevance of the description of patients pathology. In addition, this dimensional approach will improve the problems posed by the mutually exclusive diagnoses (depression and GAD, schizophrenia and depression); (d) Some disorders are based on the coexistence of different dimensions. Patients may present only one set of symptoms and have different characteristics, evolution and response to treatment. An example would be negative symptoms in Schizophrenia; (e) Because no etiological model is available and most measures are subjective, objective measures (cognitive, biological) and genetics progresses created important hopes. None of these measures is pathognomonic and most appear to be related to risk factors especially at certain periods when associated with environmental events. One of the major aims for a classification of patients is to identify groups to whom a best possible therapeutic strategy can be proposed. Drugs may improve fear extinction while the genetic and/or acquired avoidance may be called phobia. The basic mechanism and or the corresponding phenotype should appear in the classification. Progresses in early identification of disturbances by taking into account all the information available (prodromal symptoms, cognitive, biological, imaging, genetic, family information) are crucial for the future therapeutic strategy: prevention.

Key words

diagnosis classification psychiatry ICD DSM 



There is no conflict of interest. The corresponding author assures that there is no association with a company whose product is named in the article or a company that markets a competitive product. The presentation of the topic is impartial and the representation of the contents are product neutral.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Directeur de Recherche INSERM U 302, Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière, INSERM U 302ParisFrance

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