Associated conditions vs. symptoms

After coming across this egregious article about vitamin K deficiency on, I thought I’d point out the distinction between associated conditions and symptoms, if only for the chance to once again mock a content farm writer.

The author of the article purports to present, in true rat-a-tat internet style, a quintet of vitamin K deficiency symptoms. He begins with a general description of the bone problems vitamin K deficiency causes, then lists five bulleted examples that have nothing to do with bones. He refers to hemorrhage and bleeding problems as if they were separate things and includes Alzheimer’s as an example, although it’s not a bleeding disease. Blood clotting, which in itself is not objectionable, is also listed as a symptom because the author forgot the word “impaired.”

But enough of all that. Let’s focus on bullet point 5, which refers to calcium deposit symptoms in general and malabsorption, biliary obstruction, cystic fibrosis, and resection of the small intestine specifically. Never mind that none of those conditions has anything to do with calcium. What they do is lower vitamin K levels, directly or indirectly. The conditions come first, and somehow or another, somewhere down the line, vitamin K deficiency results. The conditions are not symptoms of the deficiency. The deficiency is a symptom of the conditions.

The deficiency might be ten steps down a chain of reactions from the condition, or the intervening steps might not even be known. That’s why the conditions are referred to as “associated” instead of “causative.” Gum disease, for example, recently became an associated condition for heart disease when researchers began to suspect that some migrating bacterial mischief was going on, but couldn’t pinpoint exactly what.

The term “associated” is also used when two diseases or conditions or symptoms or disorders — however you want to look at it — frequently occur together without one clearly causing the other, and experts haven’t figured out the exact relationship between them. People with depression often have lousy digestion, and people with Tourette’s often have tics. In these cases the rather grim term “comorbid” is also used.

As if that mistake weren’t enough, the poor author also seems unaware that a small intestine resection is a surgical procedure. According to him, without enough vitamin K, you run the risk of waking up to find that a foot of your small bowel has been neatly removed.

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