Difference Between Sign and Symptoms

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: October 11, 2023


Difference Between Sign and Symptoms

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Sign and symptoms are terms often used interchangeably as indications of a disease. It is essential for people to be able to distinguish between the two terms so that they can be used in the right context. Signs and symptoms are indeed both related to illness, but they have their purposes. Non-medical persons often use the terms interchangeably, but they are slightly different. Signs and symptoms are both indications that a person is suffering from a disease. But signs are external indications that can be seen by others, whereas symptoms are internal indications that can be experienced only by the patient. So, an example of an illness sign can be rashes and body temperature that can be seen on a thermometer, but examples of symptoms can include body pain and nausea. Signs are external indications of a disease that can be seen by others, whereas symptoms include internal pain and feelings that cannot be seen by others. This makes signs objective and symptoms subjective because they include personal feelings.

Sign vs Symptoms

The term sign has been derived from the Latin term ‘signum’, which stands for the marker, whereas the term symptom has been derived from the stem word ‘sympiptein', which means 'happen to', which has both Greek and Latin roots. Signs and symptoms are both related to diseases. They are often used interchangeably by non-medical persons without knowing their proper meaning. So, it is very important to know them properly and be able to distinguish them to accurately use the terms whenever required. The primary difference between signs and symptoms lies in their visibility and experience. Signs are external indications of an illness that can be observed by doctors and others. Meanwhile, symptoms are internal indications that is felt and experienced only by the affected person.

Symptoms are not external and are not visible to others. Signs can include checking X-rays, which tell about the placement of bones in the body, checking the body temperature through a thermometer, checking blood tests, pulse rate, and body rashes. Signs can be either seen on the body externally, or they can be seen through tests that are conducted. Symptoms, on the other hand, have to be expressed by the concerned person for others to know. There is no method for checking symptoms like nausea, headache, or any other internal body pain.

Difference Between Signs and Symptoms in Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonSignSymptom
MeaningExternal indication of a disease.Internal indication of a disease.
Nature of IndicationIt is objective because it can be seen by others.It is subjective because it is completely personal and cannot be felt by others.
Methods of CheckingSigns can be observed by taking X-rays, measuring body temperature through a thermometer.There is no method available for checking symptoms and the ill person can only inform others about the kind of symptoms that he is experiencing.
Visible or InvisibleSigns are visible and can be understood by medical professionals.Symptoms are invisible and can be only felt by the person suffering from the disease.
Role Played in DiagnosisSigns are reliable for diagnosing a disease.Symptoms are not reliable for diagnosing a disease but help in understanding an individual’s condition.

What is Sign?

Sign and symptom are often used interchangeably in terms of medical context, but they are not the same. A sign is an external indication that a particular person is not well and is ill. This indication can be seen and understood by medical professionals as it is present outside the body, on the surface of an individual's body. Sign means a signal that provides information about something, and here also, it provides information about a particular disease or illness that an individual is suffering from. Since signs are external, they are visible to anyone, along with the ill individual, but their meaning can only be understood by healthcare professionals. Moreover, not all signs can be observed externally from the beginning, such as body rashes are signs that can be observed without conducting anything. Body temperature can be seen with the help of a thermometer, X-rays are used to see the conditions of bones inside the body, and pulse rate can be measured with the help of the required device. All of these are signs which can be measured. But signs like fractures, swelling, and wounds need not be measured as they are directly visible from the outside.

Signs occur based on the body part that gets affected. Sometimes, the whole body gets affected due to illness, showing signs of fever or weight loss. Moreover, there are even some diseases and conditions that are diagnosed based on the symptoms alone, such as severe headaches or vision changes. There are no imaging tests, external signs, or any laboratory tests for this condition of migraine that can be used to detect the illness. Body temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate, and breathing rate are some of the signs that doctors use to identify a patient’s illness. These signs also help a doctor to monitor a patient's health status during an operation.

Types of Signs

In medical science, signs can be categorized under four heads which: -

  • Prognostic Signs
  • Diagnostic Signs
  • Pathognomic Signs
  • Anamnestic Signs

Prognostic Signs

Prognostic signs detect what can happen to a patient’s health condition in the future. They detect what kind of diseases can affect the patient in the future and how severe they are going to be. This sign gives a glimpse into the patient’s future health. They act like clues and help in making informed decisions regarding the treatment to improve the well-being of a patient. However, this kind of sign does not tell a doctor the nature of the disease. It is like if a person is going to suffer from diabetes in the future, then he will show prognostic signs. They are helpful in determining the severity of a disease and how badly it can affect a person’s health.

Diagnostic Signs

Diagnostic signs are helpful for a doctor to identify and detect what disease a person is suffering from. E.g., a person who has a high body temperature can be suffering from fever.

Pathognomic Signs

Pathognomic signs are similar to diagnostic signs in that they help the doctor identify and detect a certain health problem. But the difference is that this sign gives full certainty to the doctor that it stands for only one disease and there is no possibility for any other disease.

Anamnestic Signs

These kinds of signs are used to look into the past medical condition of a person such as a person suffering from extreme acnes in the past can have skin scars in the future.

What is Symptom?

Symptoms are also indications that a person is suffering from a disease, but these are internal indications that the suffering individual can only experience and feel. Symptoms cannot be seen by others other than the ill individual, which is why symptoms have to be told to the doctors to diagnose what kind of disease an individual is suffering from. Moreover, symptoms cannot be measured like signs. It is not possible for us to measure the symptom of any person, like the extent of headache a person is suffering from or how much nauseating a person is feeling. So, symptoms have to be informed by the patient to the doctor based on which the doctor can treat a patient. This means that symptoms, unlike signs, are subjective because they are personal and can be felt only by the patient.

It is difficult, rather impossible, for doctors to understand an individual’s condition through symptoms, which is why they are not so effective. This is because symptoms are internal and are experienced only by the patient. The same symptom of headache can be felt by many persons suffering from different kinds of diseases like migraines, fever, or internal problems. Hence, signs are more effective in this case, and doctors mainly identify a person’s illness based on the signs that are visible. This is because different kinds of diseases show different kinds of signs.

Types of Symptoms

Symptoms can be classified into three types and they are: -

  • Chronic Symptoms
  • Remitting Symptoms
  • Relapsing Symptoms

Chronic Symptoms

It is really difficult to get cured from chronic symptoms. They last for a long time within a person, or they keep coming back. This kind of symptoms are like that clingy friend who always seems to be around and cannot be get ridden of easily. This kind of symptoms are mainly the effects of long-term diseases. People suffering from heart disease, cancer, asthma, or diabetes mainly suffer from chronic symptoms.

Remitting Symptoms

This kind of symptom can be cured. They do not last for a long time and can be resolved or improved completely for a particular period. But they can come back later like symptoms of a common cold. They do not stay for a long period, nor do they get erased permanently. These kinds of symptoms get cured temporarily, but they can come in the future.

Relapsing Symptoms

Relapsing symptoms are a bit like remitting symptoms, except that they do not completely escape from the body. It consists of those symptoms that a person had experienced in the past and was resolved but has come back again in his life, such as symptoms of depression. They can be never completely resolved so; they keep coming back again and again.

Main Difference Between Signs and Symptoms (In Points)

  • Signs and symptoms are terms related to diseases. Non-medical people often get confused and use the terms interchangeably. So, everybody should know the proper meaning of the two terms to use them accurately in the right place. A sign is nothing but an external indication that a person is suffering from a disease. It can be seen and understood by medical professionals, such as body rashes, infections, and fractures. This is why signs are objective because they can be seen and understood by others other than the patient. However, some signs like rashes, can be directly seen on the body surface of the patient, whereas others, like bone fractures or body temperature, have to be measured and seen. Symptoms, on the other hand, are exactly the opposite of signs. They are the internal indications that a person is suffering from a disease. Only the patient can feel and experience them, and nobody else can understand what kind of symptoms the person is facing or what disease he is suffering. A doctor, while treating his patient, tries to know the kind of symptoms that a patient is experiencing so that he is able to detect the disease.
  • The doctor mainly looks for the signs in a patient to detect the kind of disease. So, signs turn out to be more effective while identifying a disease, but there are some cases where the doctor has to depend on the symptoms of a disease in order to identify what it is because signs are not present in every disease, like in migraine. In migraine, there is no sign but symptom of headache that can be felt by the patient only. Doctors do not depend on symptoms to identify a disease because any two persons suffering from the same disease can experience completely different kinds of symptoms and vice versa. It totally depends on how the microbe reacts with the body of the sick person. For example, nausea can be a symptom of both migraine and fever.


Hence, Signs and symptoms are related to the medical field, and they are most of the time used interchangeably by non-medical persons. It is crucial to understand that signs and symptoms are not the same. Signs are the outward signals that a person is ill, which can be seen by others along with the patient. Symptoms, however, are internal effects of a disease and can be experienced by an ill individual only. Others cannot see what kind of symptoms a particular person is facing, so they are subjective, unlike signs which are objective. Symptoms have to be told to the doctor so that he can diagnose an ill individual.


  • https://www.goodrx.com/healthcare-access/medication-education/signs-vs-symptoms
  • https://www.toppr.com/guides/biology/difference-between/signs-and-symptoms/
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/161858#symptoms
  • https://www.verywellhealth.com/word-of-the-week-signs-vs-symptoms-5185780


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"Difference Between Sign and Symptoms." Diffzy.com, 2024. Fri. 19 Jul. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-sign-and-symptoms>.

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