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Iatrogenic Disease: Definition & Effects

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  • 0:02 What Is an Iatrogenic Disease?
  • 0:35 Causes of Iatrogenic Diseases
  • 1:13 Types of Iatrogenic Diseases
  • 2:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

What happens if you get sicker after receiving some type of medical treatment that was supposed to make you better? This is called an iatrogenic disease. Watch this lesson to learn about iatrogenic diseases and see some examples.

What Is an Iatrogenic Disease?

Simply put, an iatrogenic disease is one that develops as a result of another form of medical treatment or advice provided to a patient. How does this happen? Well, it could be because of complications after surgery or another medical treatment, or it could be because of an indirect interaction from medications or drug therapy. An iatrogenic disease isn't always harmful to the patient, though it is estimated that at least 230,000 people die each year in the United States due to iatrogenic diseases.

Causes of Iatrogenic Diseases

Iatrogenic diseases can be caused by a number of things and in some cases they are more of an effect or symptom than a full-on disease. A complication after surgery or another medical procedure could be classified as an iatrogenic disease. It could be a result of error or negligence on the part of the surgeon, doctor or nurse, or pharmacist, or it could simply be due to chance, meaning it's no one's fault in particular; sometimes complications just happen. In fact, iatrogenic disease due to adverse side effects of drugs, not error, is the most common type of iatrogenic disease documented.

Types of Iatrogenic Diseases

Not all iatrogenic diseases are harmful. For example, a scar is considered an iatrogenic disease, though it doesn't actually hurt the patient and is often an inevitable part of medical procedures. A patient could have negative side effects from certain prescription drugs, either from too high of a dose or due to bad combinations of drugs. Or, the side effects could be simply part of the medical process. For example, radiation and chemotherapy can kill cancer cells while also causing nausea, hair loss, and other problems in the process. Many of these are known side effects going into treatment, but they are classified as iatrogenic diseases nonetheless.

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