Idiopathic is an adjective used primarily in medicine
Medicine is the science and art of healing. It encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness....

 meaning arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause. From Greek ἴδιος, idios (one's own) + πάθος, pathos (suffering), it means approximately "a disease
A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It is often construed to be a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by external factors, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune...

 of its own kind". It is technically a term from nosology, the classification of disease. For some medical conditions, one or more causes are somewhat understood, but in a certain percentage of people with the condition, the cause may not be readily apparent or characterized. In these cases, the origin of the condition is said to be idiopathic.

With some medical conditions, the medical community cannot establish a root cause for a large percentage of all cases (for example, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis
Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis
Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis is a cause of nephrotic syndrome in children and adolescents, as well as an important cause of kidney failure in adults.It is also known as "focal glomerular sclerosis" or "focal nodular glomerulosclerosis"....

, the majority of which are idiopathic); with other conditions, however, idiopathic cases account for a small percentage (for example, pulmonary fibrosis
Pulmonary fibrosis
Pulmonary fibrosis is the formation or development of excess fibrous connective tissue in the lungs. It is also described as "scarring of the lung".-Symptoms:Symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis are mainly:...

). As medical and scientific advances are made with relation to a particular condition or disease, more root causes are discovered, and the percentage of cases designated as idiopathic decreases.

Popular references

In his book The Human Body, Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...

 noted a comment about the term idiopathic made in the 20th edition of Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Stedman's Medical Dictionary is designed in a dictionary format to provide the language of medicine, nursing and the allied health profession. It is made up of terms, images and appendices. It can be used to look up medical terms, abbreviation, acronyms, measurements and more...

: "A high-flown term to conceal ignorance". Similarly, in the American television show House
House (TV series)
House is an American television medical drama that debuted on the Fox network on November 16, 2004. The show's central character is Dr. Gregory House , an unconventional and misanthropic medical genius who heads a team of diagnosticians at the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in...

, the title character remarks that the word is "from the Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, meaning: 'We're idiots 'cause we can't figure out what's causing it.'
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