Where do new diseases get their name from?

There has been a strong convention in medicine and surgery to call disorders following the medical physician that first identified or published with that condition. Sometimes the physician called the ailment after themselves which often can be considered to some degree egotistic and at other times it was given a physician’s name by their colleagues in acknowledgement of the success, which could be looked at an honour. Lately there has been a trend away from naming illnesses after doctors.

There are many reasons for this trend. Nowadays scientific studies are almost certainly going to be carried out by teams and not individuals working by themselves, therefore it is difficult to credit a disease to only a single person. Sometimes in past times recognition for a disease has gone to the wrong doctor and the illness appeared to be explained by someone else earlier than the one which gets the credit.

A disease that is called after someone won't refer to the actual pathology or even the fundamental biological mechanisms of the disease process which are generally significantly more helpful. For instance, it is relatively easy to be aware what diseases such as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (or AIDS) or even whooping cough are simply based on the name. If these types of problems had been called after physcians, it would certainly express nothing at all of the underpinning process. In several cases there may be several illnesses called after the same physician or the same name. As an example, there are actually 12 different illnesses named after the neurosurgeon, Cushing.

Sometimes a illness which is called after an individual has something regarding their history that it is no longer appropriate to name the disorder after them. For example, there was a condition, Reiter’s syndrome that had been called after Dr Hans Reiter who was subsequently convicted of war crimes regarding his medical experiments performed at a Nazi concentration prison. The condition that was named as Reiter’s syndrome is currently more frequently called Reactive arthritis. In the same way, Wegener’s Granulomatosis was called for Friedrich Wegener who had been a Nazi doctor. The term for the disorder has become more often known as granulomatosis with polyangiitis when his Nazi connections were discovered.

Another example is Severs disease that is a painful condition with the heel bone in kids that is self-limiting. It was first described by J Severs in 1912. This isn't a disease, but the use of that terminology is most likely damaging to children. It might be more correctly called calcaneal apophysitis since the heel bone is actually referred to as the calcaneus and the pathology is an inflammation with the apophysis (or growth zone).

The World Health Organization has recently released principles on the labeling of new conditions with an emphasis on an ideal practice not to name diseases after physicians or geographic areas in order to minimize the effects on those people and the locations as well as their economies and to avoid stigmatization of individuals and regions. The best strategies states that an illness name really should consist of a generic descriptive name that can be according to the symptoms the disease brings about and more specific descriptive terms after robust information is available on how the disease shows up or behaves.