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Classifications & Causes

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Classifications

Diseases may be classified by cause, pathogenesis (mechanism by which the disease is caused), or by symptom(s). Alternatively, diseases may be classified according to the organ system involved, though this is often complicated since many diseases affect more than one organ.

A chief difficulty in nosology is that diseases often cannot be defined and classified clearly, especially when cause or pathogenesis are unknown. Thus diagnostic terms often only reflect a symptom or set of symptoms (syndrome).

Classical classification of human disease derives from observational correlation between pathological analysis and clinical syndromes. Today it is preferred to classify them by their cause if it is known.

The most known and used classification of diseases is the World Health Organization's ICD. This is periodically updated. Currently the last publication is the ICD-10.

Causes

Only some diseases such as influenza are contagious and commonly believed infectious. The micro-organisms that cause these diseases are known as pathogens and include varieties of bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi. Infectious diseases can be transmitted, e.g. by hand-to-mouth contact with infectious material on surfaces, by bites of insects or other carriers of the disease, and from contaminated water or food (often via fecal contamination), etc. Also, there are sexually transmitted diseases. In some cases, microorganisms that are not readily spread from person to person play a role, while other diseases can be prevented or ameliorated with appropriate nutrition or other lifestyle changes.

Some diseases, such as most (but not all) forms of cancer, heart disease, and mental disorders, are non-infectious diseases. Many non-infectious diseases have a partly or completely genetic basis (see genetic disorder) and may thus be transmitted from one generation to another.

Social determinants of health are the social conditions in which people live that determine their health. Illnesses are generally related to social, economic, political, and environmental circumstances. Social determinants of health have been recognized by several health organizations such as the Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization to greatly influence collective and personal well-being. The World Health Organization's Social Determinants Council also recognizes Social determinants of health in poverty.

When the cause of a disease is poorly understood, societies tend to mythologize the disease or use it as a metaphor or symbol of whatever that culture considers evil. For example, until the bacterial cause of tuberculosis was discovered in 1882, experts variously ascribed the disease to heredity, a sedentary lifestyle, depressed mood, and overindulgence in sex, rich food, or alcohol—all the social ills of the time.

When a disease is caused by a pathogen (e.g., when the disease malaria is caused by infection by Plasmodium parasites.), the term disease may be misleadingly used even in the scientific literature in place of its causal agent, the pathogen. This language habit can cause confusion in the communication of the cause-effect principle in epidemiology, and as such it should be strongly discouraged.

Types of causes

Airborne
An airborne disease is any disease that is caused by pathogens and transmitted through the air.

Foodborne
Foodborne illness or food poisoning is any illness resulting from the consumption of food contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, toxins, viruses, prions or parasites.

Infectious
Infectious diseases, also known as transmissible diseases or communicable diseases, comprise clinically evident illness (i.e., characteristic medical signs or symptoms of disease) resulting from the infection, presence and growth of pathogenic biological agents in an individual host organism. Included in this category are contagious diseases – an infection, such as influenza or the common cold, that commonly spreads from one person to another – and communicable diseases – a disease that can spread from one person to another, but does not necessarily spread through everyday contact.

Lifestyle
A lifestyle disease is any disease that appears to increase in frequency as countries become more industrialized and people live longer, especially if the risk factors include behavioral choices like a sedentary lifestyle or a diet high in unhealthful foods such as refined carbohydrates, trans fats, or alcoholic beverages.

Non-communicable
A non-communicable disease is a medical condition or disease that is non-transmissible. Non-communicable diseases cannot be spread directly from one person to another. Heart disease and cancer are examples of non-communicable diseases in humans.

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