An iconic language for the Visualization of Concepts in Medicine

Lesson 2 : Icons for complex disorders

In lesson 1, we have seen how to represent simple disorders and symptoms. To represent disorders (or symptoms) with more details, VCM distinguishes two types of disorder: generic disorders that can be found at several sites, and disorders specific to a given site.

Disorders that can be found on several locations

Some disorders can involve several anatomico-functional locations, or even the whole body. For example: infectious diseases (including pulmonary infection, urinary infection), tumor processes and cancers (lung cancer, intestinal cancer), hemorrhages (cerebral hemorrhage, digestive hemorrhage, hemorrhage without more precision), insufficiencies (cardiac failure, renal failure, hepatic failure), and other.

For representing these disorders, the shape of the red square is enriched by a shape modifier that gives additional details about the disorder. These shape modifiers can be combined with the pictogram for anatomico-functional location (see lesson 1). Here is the list of shape modifiers:

Shape modifiersExamples
Increase, hyper-functioning
Hyperthyroidism (hyper-functioning of the thyroid gland)
Decrease, hypo-functioning, failure
Cardiac failure (cardiac function insufficiency)
Renal failure (renal function insufficiency)
Stop, arrest
Cardiac arrest
End-stage renal failure
Sudden increase
Sudden decrease
Congenital malformation
Cardiac malformation
Enlargement, -megaly
Cephalalgia, headache
Inflammatory intestinal disease
Nervous impairment
Vascular impairment
Coronary disease (vascular disease located in the heart)
Cerebrovascular disease
Obstructed blood vessel, embolism, thrombosis
Myocardial infarction (obstructed blood vessel in the heart)
Pulmonary embolism
Bleeding, hemorrhage
Digestive hemorrhage
Cerebral hemorrhage
Metrorrhagia (hemorrhage located in uterus)
Pulmonary edema
Peptic ulcer (ulcer in the stomach)
Metabolic disease
Hepatic metabolism disorder
Drug dependence
Infectious disease
Viral infectious disease
Viral hepatitis
Bacterial infectious disease
Bacterial meningitis
Fungal infectious disease
Cutaneous mycosis cutanis
Parasitic infectious disease
Intestinal parasitosis
Cancer, tumor
Cancer of the urinary bladder
Benign tumor, cyst
Benign tumor of the prostate
Allergy, hypersensitivity
Allergic rhinitis
Genetic disease
Autoimmune disease
Autoimmune cerebral disease
Intoxication, chemical-induced disease
Food poisoning
Disease or symptom caused by a treatment, iatrogenic disease
Disease or symptom caused by a medical procedure
Disease or symptom caused by a drug
Disease or symptom caused by an irradiation

Disorders specific to a given location

Other disorders or symptoms are specific to a given location, for example heart rhythm disorder are specific to the cardiac system. Similarly, vomiting is specific to the stomach.

For these disorders, a specific pictogram is used, which is based on the anatomo-functional location but is modified to give additional details. For example:

Heart rhythm disorder (Cardiac disorder + ECG signal)
Bronchial disorder (lung disorder + bronchial tubes)
Diabetes (endocrine disorder + sugar)
Cough (upper respiratory tract + expectoration)
Nausea / vomiting (stomach disorder + arrow for vomiting)
Gastro-esophageal reflux (stomach disorder + reflux)
Gallbladder disorder
Mood disorder (psychological / behavioral disorder + mood)
Anxiety (psychological / behavioral disorder + anxiety)
Sleep disorder (psychological / behavioral disorder + sleep)
Vertigo (psychological / behavioral disorder + vertigo)
Asthenia (psychological / behavioral disorder + fatigue)
Glaucoma (eye disorder + arrows)
Parkinson disease (central nervous system disorder + tremor)
Cerebral degeneration (including Alzheimer disease, central nervous system disorder + holes)
Osteoporosis (bone disorder + holes in bone)


The two methods for enriching disorder icons can be combined, for example:

Tachycardia (increase of heart rhythm)
Epilepsy (increase of cerebral activity)
Depression (decrease of mood)
Insomnia (decrease of sleep)
Asthma / chronic obstructive lung disease (functional insufficiency of the bronchial tubes)


VCM has pictograms and shapes for only the most important and common disorders. Disorders that are too rare or too specific are represented by a more general icon, for example “abnormality of the cardiac septum” is represented as a cardiac disorder without further details.

Exercise 1

What is the meaning of the following icons? To answer, click on the rectangular box to the right of “Answer :”, type your response and then click on “Submit”. You should provide the exact answer, so be careful with the spelling! Don’t worry if there are issues with synonyms or misspellings:-)

(1) Answer: Submit


(2) Answer: Submit


(3) Answer: Submit


(4) Answer: Submit


(5) Answer: Submit


(6) Answer: Submit


(7) Answer: Submit


(8) Answer: Submit


(9) Answer: Submit


(10) Answer: Submit

Exercise 2

The following text, with VCM icon in the margin, describes the properties of a hypothetical antihypertensive treatment:

This drug is contraindicated for patients presenting cardiac failure.

This drug should not be prescribed in cases of heart rhythm disorders.

This drug is formally contraindicated in case of articular inflammation.

This drug is contraindicated for people suffering from cystitis.

This drug should not be prescribed to patients presenting depressive symptoms.


Now, reply to the following questions about the clinical cases described:

Case #1: M. X is 63 years old, he is currently being treated for a malignant tumor of the large intestine, and with a non-drug treatment for a type 2 diabetes. His blood pressure is abnormally high. Can you prescribe him the drug described in the text above?

(11-a) Yes Right answer!

(11-b) No Wrong answer!


Case #2: Ms Y is 42 years old, she is currently receiving treatment for depression. She also suffers from hypertension. Can you prescribe her the drug described in the text above?

(12-a) Yes Wrong answer!

(12-b) No Right answer!