Idiopathic Disease

When a diagnosis is offered, often after specialist investigation, the word ‘idiopathic' appears in many cases. What does this word mean? It is clearly not self-explanatory, although it does sound rather ‘grand'.

Idiopathic is the word used in ‘technospeak' for diseases, syndromes and conditions which are thought to arise spontaneously or have no known cause. That's it.

At the AVMC, we find it hard to accept that any disease arises spontaneously. The fact that the cause has not been identified may simply be down to the fact that we are not looking in the right direction for the cause. Disease is literally ‘dis-ease' or a disturbance of the healthy balance of the body. Any factor or combination of factors that has the power to disturb the body's equilibrium has the power to be a cause of disease.

Environmental factors, meteorological factors, climatic factors, management factors, dietary factors, vaccination, drugs, viruses, bacteria, parasites, injury, chemicals, pollution and poisoning are examples of potential disease-producing agents. Very often in medicine, the place we do not look for a cause is in the factors created by us ourselves, e.g. diet, pollution, vaccination, drugs, saddling, shoeing etc. It is also difficult to study complex combinations of factors, that may give rise to disease.

We believe that, sooner or later, as such factors are consciously brought into the equation, we shall remove the word ‘idiopathic' from many disease names. For instance, we may find that many cases of ‘primary idiopathic epilepsy' in dogs might be vaccine-induced.

This topic also brings into question, again, our obsession with the naming of diseases. Names can be quite arbitrary and meaningless and, in most cases, do not help us to cure them. Likewise, many autoimmune conditions may be induced by sensitisation to animal tissues by the inclusion of animal tissues in vaccines.