The term "constitutional symptoms" refers to the manifestation of an illness that occurs because the illness affects the whole body. They tend to be non-specific to particular diseases, and are not as useful in diagnosis as non-constitutional symptoms. Examples of clearly identifiable medical issues that fall into this group include fever, headache and sweating. More vague issues like weakness, sleepiness or weight loss are also part of the group. Constitutional symptoms can occur individually or together, depending on the specific medical condition affecting the person.
As the body is one organism, the effects of a particular disease on one area do not necessarily only affect a single area. The immune system can produce effects across the entire body, as can problems with energy metabolism, or adverse effects on the brain or other organs. Therefore, a problem in one area, such as thyroid disease, can produce these symptoms, as well as localized symptoms. Disease such as infections, which affect the majority of the body, can also produce symptoms that affect the whole body.
Fever is a common symptom of illness, and is called constitutional because it affects the entire body through the immune system producing a high temperature. Unusual sweating is another example, and can occur alone or in conjunction with fever. A sensation of chills or uncontrollable shaking are also general symptoms. Tingling or unusual skin sensitivity is another symptom that falls into this category, and headache is usually included in the definition, as it can occur for a wide variety of reasons, from eye problems to stress.
Weight loss is a vague indicator of disease, although severe weight loss is an obvious focus for serious disease diagnosis. This symptom can occur for a variety of reasons. The illness may affect the person's appetite, or the disease may cause malabsorption of nutrients from a normal intake of food. Vomiting or diarrhea as a result of the disease can also be a cause of weight loss.
Weakness is a general symptom that can signal the presence of a variety of diseases, from influenza to heart conditions. Abnormal drowsiness, yawning or lethargy can also indicate the presence of underlying illness. When the lungs or the heart are affected by disease, the person may also display an inability to breathe normally, or feel faint when sitting up.
The severity of these symptoms generally indicate the types of treatment that the person needs. Serious problems like weakness or breathlessness require immediate attention, whereas an adult with a slight fever may only require a doctor's or pharmacist's advice. Treatment options for constitutional symptoms depend on the individual patient, but generally focus on treating the underlying cause to remove or alleviate the constitutional problems.