There’s been a movement afoot for several years now to quantify pain as the so-called “Fifth Vital Sign.” It all started as a well-intentioned effort to raise the level of awareness of inadequate pain control in many patients, but has gotten way out of hand. The problem is that the word “sign” has a specific meaning in medicine that, by definition, cannot be applied to pain.
When you hear us medicos talk about “signs and symptoms” of a disease, it turns out that they are not the same thing. “Symptoms” are things the patient experiences subjectively. “Signs” are things that can be observed objectively by another person.
Headache is a symptom; cough is a sign. Itching is a symptom; scratch marks over a blistery linear rash are a sign. Vertigo, the hallucination of movement, is a symptom; nystagmus, the eye twitching that goes with inner ear abnormalities that can cause vertigo, is a sign. If someone other than the patient can’t see, hear, palpate, percuss, or measure it, it’s a symptom. Anything that can be perceived by someone else is a sign. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*