Intended for healthcare professionals

BMJ: 324 (7334)

BMJ 2015; 324 doi: (Published 19 January 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;324:375

Disease Vs. Non-disease: When a non-disease becomes a disease?

Disease: “a condition that impairs normal physiological functioning.”

Health: “state of optimal functioning with freedom from disease or abnormality.”

Non-disease is a state somewhere between health and disease. Its definition varies depending on the individual and society.

An individual might feel that he/she is normal but if his/her behavior is affecting the society’s moral values then that would be considered abnormal by the society. Although it may not be classified as ‘disease’ but it definitely would not be considered ‘healthy’ and would likely be classified as ‘un-healthy’ or ‘non-disease.’

Similarly an individual afflicted with an abnormality that impairs his/her normal functioning would consider himself/herself as ‘having a disease’ but society may not consider him as such because that ailment has not been recognized by the society as a disease for various reasons (no consensus on definition, ambiguous symptomatology, lack of recognition etc.).

It is interesting to note that a so-called ‘(ab)normal or sub-normal state’ remains a non-disease until a modality or treatment becomes available. When a drug or therapy for a ‘non-disease’ becomes available then that ailment becomes not only a disease, but an epidemic. Obesity and osteoporosis have been embedded in human culture for centuries and in fact about a century ago, obesity was a sign of good health and prosperity. In the past decade these conditions have become epidemics. Why? Is this really an effort to improve the overall health of the population or has some ulterior motives (financial gains for the ‘interest group(s)’).

Competing interests: No competing interests

16 February 2002
Malvinder S. Parmar
Consultant Physician, Director of Dialysis
Timmins & District Hospital, Timmins, ON. P4N 8R1. Canada.