Iatrogenic disease

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 4 Aug 2021

An iatrogenic disease is a clinical condition that results from the direct (or indirect) actions of physicians, surgeons, or other caregivers, e.g. nurses 1.

Anything caused by any form of diagnostic test or treatment (including medication, radiotherapy and surgery) may be described as iatrogenic, e.g. a pneumothorax occurring as a sequela of thoracentesis could be described as an iatrogenic disease.

It is important to note that most instances of iatrogenesis follow correct uses of the treatment modality, i.e. it is not medical malpractice. Moreover, intentional overdose with medication or a non-prescribed treatment does not usually count as iatrogenesis 2.


Iatrogenesis is a major cause of morbidity (and mortality) in modern health care settings and multiple studies over the years have demonstrated clear harms related to medications and other healthcare interventions 2,3.

History and etymology

Iatrogenic is derived from the Ancient Greek roots ιατρος (iatros) meaning physician and γεν (gen) meaning producing 1. The 'iatros' root is also found in 'geriatric' (physician of the old) and 'pediatric' (physician of the child).

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