From ArticleWorld

Etiology is, as a medical term, the cause behind a particular disease or, as a forensic term, the cause of an individual’s death. The word, etiology, comes from the Greek word, aitia, which means “cause”.

Medical etiology

Often, when an individual suffers some symptoms, the doctor must determine the etiology of the symptoms and place them in a category that best matches with a particular condition or disease. A combination of a medical history, physical exam, X-rays and/or laboratory evaluation will often lead to a specific etiology as being the cause of the patient’s symptoms.

Sometimes the etiology of a certain condition is more complex than originally thought and the etiology can be multifactorial or controversial. For example, if a person has a cough and the diagnosis on X-Ray is that of pneumonia, the diagnosis may not be the actual etiology. Digging further, the doctor may find that the etiology of the pneumonia is actually lung cancer that is causing secondary pneumonia. Finally, if the individual smoked cigarettes for 40 or so years, the doctor may decide that the actual etiology is that of cigarette smoking.

Legal etiology

Medical examiners and pathologists must determine the etiology of a person’s death. They also use history, physical examination, X-rays and blood tests to determine the causation of the person’s death. In the same way that doctors find causation sometimes complicated, medical examiners may need to dig further to understand the true etiology behind a death.

For example, if an individual is a drowning victim, the final etiology behind the death is that of asphyxia due to lack of oxygen. The pathologist may stop at that particular point and call the etiology of death as an accidental drowning. However, if there is evidence of a serious recent head wound, the etiology of the death could be homicidal. The person could have received blunt trauma to the head causing a fall into the water and subsequent drowning. The etiology would be homicide due to blunt trauma to the head with subsequent drowning.

If instead the pathologist finds large amounts of alcohol and/or drugs in the deceased individual and no evidence of trauma, then the actual etiology may be concluded to be alcohol/drug intoxication with subsequent drowning. Many different pieces of the puzzle must be put in place before the pathologist can accurately define the cause (or etiology) of death.