2012.3-22.problem of synonyms

DOI: 10.7241/ourd.20123.58                                                                                  article in PDF
Our Dermatol Online. 2012; 3(3): 237-238 
Date of submission: 25.02.2012 / acceptance: 15.03.2012 
Conflicts of interest: None

Khalid Al Aboud

Pathology Department, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA

Corresponding author: Dr. Khalid Al Aboud     e-mail:amoa65@hotmail.com



One of the important problems in the medical field is the absent of uniform and standard terminology. This applies to dermatology and to other medical specialties. Many diseases have multiple names, and may be called differently, even in a single country. This may cause confusion among patients, and health care providers. For researchers looking for a given disease, absent of uniform nomenclature may put strain on them during their studies. This problem, if not corrected, is expected to get worse in the future due to the progressive increase in the amount of medical literature that might be difficult to search for a disease with several names. In this communication, I will take Multiple Symmetric Lipomatosis (MSL), as an example, for the problem of synonyms. MSL is a metabolic condition characterized by the growth of fatty masses around the back of the head, neck, upper arms in a very specific pattern, causing a pseudo athletic habitus. It is described in adults from 30 to 60 years old, and more common in male. Most of the cases are associated with alcoholism [1]. The cause of MSL remains unknown, but abnormalities in lipogenesis induced by catecholamines and mitochondrial DNA have been observed [2]. Multiple Symmetric Lipomatosis, also spelled as multiple symmetrical lipomatosis, is known in medical literature with other names. These include Benign Symmetric Lipomatosis, Madelung’s Disease and Lanois-Bensaude Syndrome. MSL was first described by Brodie in 1846. Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie (1783-1862), Figure 1, was an English surgeon. After that, Madelung in 1888 and Launois and Bensaude in 1898 characterized the disease [1]. Otto Wilhelm Madelung (1846-1926), Figure 2, was a German surgeon. Pierre-Emile Launois (1856-1914), Figure 3, was a French physician. Raoul Bensaude (1866-1938), Figure 4, was a French physician [3]. One can see easily that searching scientific databases like MEDLINE (www.pubmed.com), with synonyms of this disorder, as a search words, will end up with different number of citations. Table I, illustrate the discrepancy in the number of citations obtained using each name for this disease. Hence, the importance of having a uniform and standard terminology in medical field cannot be overemphasized. It remained a goal which is a difficult to achieve. Many steps might be needed to improve the problem of synonyms. However, as a starting step, authors and editors should keep the importance of adhering to the most cited international name for a given disease and refraining from mentioning other synonyms.
The names
Number of citations in
PubMed using the term as a search words
Number of citations in PubMed using
the term as a search words, and
limiting the search to the title
Benign Symmetric Lipomatosis 94 60
Lanois-Bensaude Syndrome 101 93
Madelung's Disease 412 94
Madelung-Launois-Bensaude syndrome 4 3
Multiple Symmetrical syndrome 358 37

Table I. The different numbers of citations obtained from searching the PubMed with synonyms of Multiple Symmetric Lipomatosis, as of 23 Feb 2012
Figure 1. Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, (1783-1862). Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine
Figure 2. Otto Wilhelm Madelung, (1846-1926). Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine
Figure 3. Pierre-Emile Launois, (1856-1914). Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine
Figure 4. Raoul Bensaude, (1866-1938). Reproduced with permission from reference number 3s
1. González-García R, Rodríguez-Campo FJ, Sastre-Pérez J, Muñoz-Guerra MF: Benign symmetric lipomatosis (Madelung’s disease): case reports and current management. Aesthetic Plast Surg. 2004; 28: 108-112. 2. Chong PS, Vucic S, Hedley-Whyte ET, Dreyer M, Cros D: Multiple Symmetric Lipomatosis (Madelung’s Disease) Caused by the MERRF (A8344G) Mutation: A Report of Two Cases and Review of the Literature. J Clin Neuromuscul Dis. 2003; 5: 1-7. 3. Martin J: Synnott Raoul Bensaude of Paris. Am J Dig Dis Nutr. 1936; 3: 262-267.



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