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A symptom is a sign that forebodes some much greater problem. The term originated in medicine, but has been linguistically expanded to describe social problems as well.

In medicine, the term usually refers to a side effect of a more significant medical condition such as a disease or bodily malfunction. Usually, just one symptom is not enough for doctors to prognose the problem; it often takes several simultaneous symptoms for the doctor to isolate which disease the patient has. For example, nausea can indicate any number of medical conditions, from Gulf War syndrome to pregnancy. However, when combined with the symptoms of fatigue, vomiting, internal bleeding, and low white blood cell count, it is almost certain the patient is suffering from radiation poisoning. After such an educated guess, doctors may then verify the disease by performing medical tests.

In social commentary, the term describes one social problem being the consequence of a larger social problem. For example, increased occurrences of school shootings and teenage pregnancies result from gratuitous violence and sex in video games, movies, television and radio. Thus, school shootings and teenage pregnancies are symptoms of the greater social problem of the liberally biased media producing non-family friendly content.