Asymptomatic: How You Can Be Sick And Not Even Know It

The definition of asymptomatic is without symptoms. There are a number of conditions, both mild and serious, that do not display any symptoms that you would notice. However, these conditions may have signs your healthcare provider can detect on examination and screening tests so you can get appropriate care.

Female doctor using digital tablet in consultation
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What Are Symptoms?

In medicine, symptoms of a disease or a condition are the changes that you notice in your body. These are the things that happen to your body that causes you to seek medical care. 

When you go to see your healthcare provider, they will most likely ask you why you are there. They may say something like, “I understand you are coming to see me because of a problem with your periods.”

This is the time when you would tell your healthcare provider your complaints. When you list your complaints you are also telling your healthcare provider about your symptoms. This conversation is called history taking. It is important that you give your healthcare provider as thorough a history as possible explaining all of your symptoms.

Your healthcare provider will likely ask you several questions to help you give them a clear picture of what is going on. Some examples of symptoms that you might list about your period include:

  • Heavier bleeding than usual
  • Passing blood clots
  • Soaking through a super tampon and a maxi pad in an hour
  • Increased cramping with your period
  • Painful urination during your period
  • Low back pain with your period

Your healthcare provider should listen very carefully to you when you are talking about your symptoms. This is one of the most important parts of your visit to the healthcare provider. By the time you have finished explaining how and what you are feeling, your healthcare provider should have an idea of the possible causes of your symptoms.

What Are Signs?

Now your healthcare provider will do an examination. This is called a physical. Your healthcare provider will now look for changes in your body that could explain the symptoms that you are feeling.

What your healthcare provider is now looking for are signs of a condition or a disease. Based on the above complaints the signs that your healthcare provider might find are:

  • A mass in your lower abdomen
  • Pain when she moves your cervix
  • An enlarged uterus
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge

Your healthcare provider will then combine your symptoms with the signs they found on the exam and they will either make a diagnosis or have made a shortlist of possible diagnoses. They may order some testing to help her make a final diagnosis.

What If You're Asymptomatic?

The pathway to making a diagnosis is much different when you are asymptomatic meaning that you do not have any symptoms. You don’t have any changes in your body that are bothering you.

If you don’t have any symptoms of a condition you will not know that you may have a serious condition until it is too late. This is why it is important to see your healthcare provider regularly so they can look for signs of disease.

Also, it is equally important to have all of the recommended screening tests to help detect diseases before they cause serious problems or become too advanced. Early detection and treatment usually result in a better outcome.

Some examples of conditions in women that may be asymptomatic until they become very advanced or start to cause problems are:

Sometimes your healthcare provider may find something on a physical exam that is not causing you any symptoms and that is not dangerous for your health. In these cases, your healthcare provider may not recommend any further treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, you play a vital role in your own health. Pay attention to changes in your body, report these to your healthcare provider and keep up with recommended screening tests. As always, it is important to discuss any concerns that you have about your health with your healthcare provider.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Planned Parenhood. How do I know if my menstrual cycle is normal?

  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The utility of and indications for routine pelvic examination. October 2018

  3. World Health Organization. Hepatitis C. July 9, 2019

By Andrea Chisholm, MD
Andrea Chisolm, MD, is a board-certified OB/GYN who has taught at both Tufts University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.