Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


What's a good doctor and how do you make one?

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 28 September 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:711

Rapid Response:

What is a "self-limited disease"?

The authors state that a good doctor "is not one who makes the best
diagnosis because in many cases of self limited or incurable disorders the
precise and timely diagnosis does not make a great difference for the

I have a question about the term "self-limited." It seems to be used
differently by different practitioners and authors. A dictionary from 1928
gives typhoid fever as an example of a "self-limited" disease (1) while an
online dictionary today says that a "self-limited disease" is one that
"resolves spontaneously with or without specific treatment" (2). These
two definitions seem to contradict.

I would like to survey the authors and other readers here what the
term "self-limited disease" means to them. If it does not mean one of the
following to you, then please "fill in the blank."

a) a disease that tends to go away on its own, without treatment.

b) a disease that is typically not affected by treatment and tends to

John Hart, D.C.


1. Webster's New International Dictionary, 1928.


Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

15 February 2004
John F. Hart, D.C.
Interim Coordinator of Research, Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic
Spartanburg, South Carolina, USA 29304