Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 89–102

What is called symptom?

Scientific Contribution

DOI: 10.1007/s11019-013-9501-5

Cite this article as:
Eriksen, T.E. & Risør, M.B. Med Health Care and Philos (2014) 17: 89. doi:10.1007/s11019-013-9501-5


There is one concept in medicine which is prominent, the symptom. The omnipresence of the symptom seems, however, not to be reflected by an equally prominent curiosity aimed at investigating this concept as a phenomenon. In classic, traditional or conventional medical diagnostics and treatment, the lack of distinction with respect to the symptom represents a minor problem. Faced with enigmatic conditions and their accompanying labels such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, medically unexplained symptoms, and functional somatic syndromes, the contestation of the symptom and its origin is immediate and obvious and calls for further exploration. Based on a description of the diagnostic framework encompassing medically unexplained conditions and a brief introduction to how such symptoms are managed both within and outside of the medical clinic, we argue on one hand how unexplained conditions invite us to reconsider and re-think the concept we call a “symptom” and on the other hand how the concept “symptom” is no longer an adequate and necessary fulcrum and must be enriched by socio-cultural, phenomenological and existential dimensions. Consequently, our main aim is to expand both our interpretative horizon and the linguistic repertoire in the face of those appearances we label medically unexplained symptoms.


Symptom Medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) Basic human conditions Sensations 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Occupational and Environmental MedicineUniversity Hospital of North NorwayTromsøNorway
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy, Faculty of HumanitiesUniversity of TromsøTromsøNorway
  3. 3.Department of Community Medicine, General Practice Research UnitUniversity of TromsøTromsøNorway

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