The terms asymptomatic and subclinical are the same in the veterinary lexicon: a critical analysis

Mark Rishniw Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Veterinary Information Network, Davis, CA

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 BVSc, PhD, DACVIM
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Maurice E. White Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

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 DVM
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Nathan Mueller Veterinary Information Network, Davis, CA

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 DVM, MS

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE

The term asymptomatic and its antonyms symptomatic and symptom apply exclusively to humans. However, veterinarians commonly use these terms instead of subclinical and clinical. We examined the use of these terms to determine how, by whom, and in what context they are used.

SAMPLE

Veterinary articles on PubMed.

PROCEDURES

We searched PubMed for the terms asymptomatic, subclinical, and symptomatic within the title and abstract or as MeSH terms, restricting the search to veterinary (nonhuman) species, and downloaded and categorized each article based on species, topic, field of study, and presumed primary language of the authors. We noted whether the term appeared in the title or abstract or as a MeSH term and described the frequencies of use of these terms within each category.

RESULTS

The term asymptomatic appeared in 2,248 entries, mostly in the title or abstract. The term symptomatic appeared in 956 entries, also mostly in the title or abstract. Non-English–speaking authors used asymptomatic but not symptomatic relatively more frequently in the past decade. Certain fields of study, or disease specialties, used the terms more frequently; conversely, other fields of study, or specific journals, avoided the terms.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE

Authors of articles about animals use the term asymptomatic interchangeably with subclinical and symptomatic interchangeably with clinical. Distinct language cultures appear to exist within different veterinary fields. However, no ambiguity appears to exist with the use of these terms. Therefore, asymptomatic is the same as subclinical and symptomatic is the same as clinical in the veterinary lexicon. Both terms should be equally acceptable.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE

The term asymptomatic and its antonyms symptomatic and symptom apply exclusively to humans. However, veterinarians commonly use these terms instead of subclinical and clinical. We examined the use of these terms to determine how, by whom, and in what context they are used.

SAMPLE

Veterinary articles on PubMed.

PROCEDURES

We searched PubMed for the terms asymptomatic, subclinical, and symptomatic within the title and abstract or as MeSH terms, restricting the search to veterinary (nonhuman) species, and downloaded and categorized each article based on species, topic, field of study, and presumed primary language of the authors. We noted whether the term appeared in the title or abstract or as a MeSH term and described the frequencies of use of these terms within each category.

RESULTS

The term asymptomatic appeared in 2,248 entries, mostly in the title or abstract. The term symptomatic appeared in 956 entries, also mostly in the title or abstract. Non-English–speaking authors used asymptomatic but not symptomatic relatively more frequently in the past decade. Certain fields of study, or disease specialties, used the terms more frequently; conversely, other fields of study, or specific journals, avoided the terms.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE

Authors of articles about animals use the term asymptomatic interchangeably with subclinical and symptomatic interchangeably with clinical. Distinct language cultures appear to exist within different veterinary fields. However, no ambiguity appears to exist with the use of these terms. Therefore, asymptomatic is the same as subclinical and symptomatic is the same as clinical in the veterinary lexicon. Both terms should be equally acceptable.

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