Chief complaint

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The Chief Complaint (CC), or termed Presenting Complaint (PC) in the UK, is a concise statement describing the symptom, problem, condition, diagnosis, physician recommended return, or other factor that is the reason for a medical encounter[1]. The patient's initial comments to a physician, nurse, or other health care professional help form the differential diagnosis.

In some instances, the nature of a patient's chief complaint may determine whether or not services are covered by medical or vision insurance.[2]

Medical students are advised to use open-ended questions in order to obtain the presenting complaint.[3]


The collection of chief complaint data may be useful in addressing public health issues.[4] Certain complaints are more common in certain settings and among certain populations. Fatigue has been reported as one of the ten most common reasons for seeing a physician.[5] In acute care settings, such as emergency rooms, reports of chest pain are among the most common chief complaints.[6] The most common complaint in ERs has been reported to be abdominal pain.[7] Among nursing home residents seeking treatment at ERs, respiratory symptoms, altered mental status, gastrointestinal symptoms, and falls are the most commonly reported.[8]


  5. Nelson E, Kirk J, McHugo G, Douglass R, Ohler J, Wasson J, Zubkoff M. "Chief complaint fatigue: a longitudinal study from the patient's perspective." Fam Pract Res J. 1987 Summer;6(4):175-88. PMID 3455125.
  7. Graff LG 4th, Robinson D. "Abdominal pain and emergency department evaluation." Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2001 Feb;19(1):123-36. PMID 11214394.
  8. Ackermann RJ, Kemle KA, Vogel RL, Griffin RC Jr. "Emergency department use by nursing home residents." Ann Emerg Med. 1998 Jun;31(6):749-57. PMID 9624316.

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