Word of the Week: Etiology

illustration of scientist looking into microscope - word of the week

Alex Dos Diaz / Verywell

Each week, Verywell explains a term from health, medicine, science, or technology.


How to say itEtiology (eye-tee-oh-low-gee)

What it means: The cause of a disease or condition.

Where it comes from: From Greek, αἰτιολογία, "causes."

A person looking at a chest x-ray.


Where you might see or hear it: You might see "etiology" written in a note by your provider about your medical condition.

For example, they might explain that the reason you have the flu is that you caught the influenza virus that is going around this year. The virus is the cause of your illness.

When you might want to use it: Sometimes, the reason or cause of a condition that you have is more complicated. If you're talking with your loved ones about why you are sick, it might help to explain what etiology means and how it relates to your condition—especially if several factors were involved.

For example, if you have cancer, the etiology of the disease is a combination of your genes (which have changes in them that made you more likely to have a type of cancer) and certain things in your life that might have made it more likely to happen (for example, you smoke cigarettes).

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