Respected members I am a primary care pediatrician from South India, with 31 years experience after my graduation and 26 yeas after MD. Primary care rests on three pillars. Equity,(not equality), community participation and intersectoral coordination. The last one landed me here.

Medicine is an ever changing science, and, when new evidence arises, we incorporate it into our daily practice. Classic example will be Vitamin D deficiency. The last decade has expanded the role of this vitamin in health and disease. Surprisingly, sunlight does not always provide the vitamin, contrary to our thinking in the last century. The prevalence of the deficiency ranges from 50 to 90%, depending upon the area chosen in India. Many countries recommend the vitamin from birth.

All along this vitamin D deficiency was present. It is only now that we can correctly diagnose it, and we have been, increasingly.

That means if the patient had a complaint that arose from vitamin D deficiency, 25 years back 2 things would have been done

  • error of omission: the symptom would have been dismissed as trivial
  • error of commission: some other treatment would have been given

Of course, there are several such examples over the past 100 years. this in no way to degrade my medical community or myself.

Is there a word or phrase which describes the following sequence:

  • there is a medical condition
  • the patient has symptoms
  • the best medical practitioners of the time either ignore the condition or provide useless treatment, because of the state of medical knowledge

I would like a term that could be applied to currently unidentified problems.

Additional Information: Idiopathic is not the word .Idiopathic means, the doctor is sure of the disease but does not know the cause

  • It's unclear what you're asking. Also, could you break up your paragraph into smaller, more easily digestible paragraphs. It's very hard (for me) to read as is.
    – DyingIsFun
    Jul 12, 2016 at 19:23
  • Dealing with the paragraphs was easy. A better title might actually have answered the question, which is still not entirely clear.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 12, 2016 at 19:35
  • @Andrew: Not entirely clear? Does that imply you have at least some idea what OP is asking about? I haven't got a clue! Jul 12, 2016 at 19:39
  • 1
    @F Well, I think he's asking about a misdiagnosis, which means that my edited title has answered the question: It's a misdiagnosis.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 12, 2016 at 19:50
  • 3
    I think the OP is wondering if there is a term for a misdiagnosis that is made because, at the time of diagnosis, the underlying pathology is/was not understood. E.g., a medieval doctor diagnosing demon possession or something where today we might diagnose schizophrenia. This seems like an interesting question, as we could also use such a term to discuss current diagnoses that might be mistaken because we don't yet know what to look for.
    – 1006a
    Jul 12, 2016 at 20:25

3 Answers 3


According to Wikipedia, the former practice of bloodletting to relieve the patient of "plethoras" is a pseudoscience.


This sounded interesting and my google (re)search landed me at idiopathy :


And then, here:

idiopathic ‎(not comparable)

(pathology) Of, relating to, or designating a disease or condition having no known cause.

  • It seems to me that idiotpathic would be more appropriate. An idiopathic disorder is (as you say) one whose cause is unknown. But many disorders are misdiagnosed or properly diagnosed but inappropriately treated.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 13, 2016 at 11:39

wrongful diagnosis -> delayed diagnosis / misdiagnoses

According to the American Journal of Medicine, each year up to 15 percent of patients suffer needlessly as a result of wrong diagnoses, which include misdiagnoses and delayed diagnoses. A wrong diagnosis is considered medical malpractice if the doctor's actions "deviated from the medical standard of care" of similarly trained doctors. ...

Unless a doctor's mistake results in serious injury, the chances of winning a medical malpractice case are small. ...

A misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor fails to recognize symptoms which are clearly attributable to one illness, and instead attributes them to another illness. When this occurs, the actual illness may go untreated, resulting in worsening symptoms, and a faster onset of the illness. –injuryclaimcoach.com

delayed diagnosis

Definition: Non-optimal interval of time between onset of symptoms, identification, and initiation of treatment. –reference.md

It's only a misdiagnosis when the (real) illness has a known pathology.

It is a delayed diagnosis until the illness is "identified" having begun at the "onset of symptoms" and ending with the "initiation of treatment."


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