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...and I got all the symptoms, count 'em 1, 2, 3.

Sequential Symptom Syndrome is a gag in which one character (usually a doctor, but not always) describes the effects of a disease or a poison while someone else (usually another character who happens to be close by) experiences those same symptoms in exactly the sequence the first character is describing. If reciting symptoms causes a person to experience them, it might be Induced Hypochondria.

Usually Played for Laughs. When it's not, it can get very close to being Nightmare Fuel.

The Five Stages of Grief are often handled in a similar manner.

Examples of Sequential Symptom Syndrome include:

Comic Books

  • This happens in Cerebus. In this case, the main character was conning someone into believing they had a plague, so the symptoms were largely psychosomatic.
  • In a recent story from Cattivik our anti-hero spends the whole story suffering the infernal and disgusting symptoms of a virus as soon as the medic on television mentions them. He eventually tries to stop them by swallowing a whole truck of medicines, but it backfires horribly as the virus had exhausted his life cycle anyway.


  • In Airplane!, we can hear Leslie Nielsen describes the effects of the food poisoning in exhaustive detail, while the camera lingers on Peter Graves, who goes through each and every symptom in turn before passing out.
  • The new Star Trek film saw Dr McCoy gives Kirk a vaccine against viral infection from Levaran Mud Fleas in order to fake a medical emergency. He then treated the symptoms in sequence as they occurred.

 Kirk: Whass... whas hahpenun wi' my mouf?

McCoy: You've got numb tongue.

Kirk: Num tum??

McCoy: I can fix that!

  • A rather violent version of this trope occurs in the Jet Li film Kiss of the Dragon. Li's character uses Kung-Fu acupuncture to make a guy's head explode. Li describes the physical symptoms as the man stands paralyzed.

 ... you will begin to bleed from your eyes...


  • In Dune, Feyde-Rautha is well known for describing the effects of the poisons he uses in the arena, though not on screen.
  • Matthew Reilly uses this to introduce is fictional bio-weapon in Area 7. It mostly results in liquification of internal organs.

Live Action TV

  • In the third Blackadder series episode "Nob and Nobility", someone takes a suicide pill and recites his own symptoms as he experiences them.
    • Hilariously, he didn't realize that he had taken it, and was completely unaware of the symptoms, himself.
  • One of the few surviving fragments of Broaden Your Mind (a precursor of The Goodies) has Graeme Garden's character (presenting a programme) listing symptoms, while Tim Brooke-Taylor's character (watching it) experiences them.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation - Realm of Fear: Barclay has the computer read the symptoms of "transporter psychosis" and acts out the symptoms as he hears them.
  • In one episode of House, House uses this to prove that the sick passengers on a plane who were thought to be suffering from a deadly outbreak of meningitis (which started when one passenger exhibited real symptoms of a meningitis-like illness) in fact are simply under the effects of mass hysteria and psychosomatic illness. He announces that the original sick passenger did indeed have meningitis and that they may be infected if they have any of a long list of symptoms, including the nonexistent symptom "trembling in the left hand." Cue a planeful of suddenly shaking hands.
  • Joanna experiences this on Green Wing when Harriet rattles off a list of symptoms of pregnancy.
  • In an episode of The Nanny, Fran was explaining how kids deal with disappointment:

 Fran: They're not going to tell their father when they're dying inside. They give off signals. They act morose.

(C.C. is moping outside)

Sometimes they even have fits of anger.

(She smashes a pot)

And, finally, if they're despondent enough, they might even be driven to acts of violence.

(She stomps in Niles's foot, which had been causing him agony from corns)

And that concludes today's audio/visual demonstration.

  • A non-disease-related example. There's a song performed on Hello Cheeky which kicks off with "How'd ya like to squirt me with a soda seltzer, baby? How'd ya like to hit me with a pie?" and gets gradually messier from there. It's performed twice -- the first time, it's just the song. The second time, the singer is attacked with what he sings about after every verse.


  • In The Changeling, a tragedy by Thomas Middleton, a drug used to test virginity causes certain symptoms, which are first seen in a serving maid and then faked by her mistress for the latter's fiance.

Web Comics

  • Two consecutive Wapsi Square strips involve a doctor telling Heather about a specific symptom of a concussion, and Shelly experiencing that symptom off screen.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • In The Simpsons -- the episode where Homer eats fugu and thinks he's going to die -- Homer experiences the five stages of grief as quickly as Doctor Hibbert can recite them.
  • In Disney's The Sword in the Stone Merlin describes the effects of malignalitaloptereosis to Madame Mim, who experiences this first-hand.
  • Bugs Bunny, describing the effects of Rabbititis in Hare Tonic Hare.
    • Bugs does it twice in that episode- first to Elmer Fudd, then to the audience.
  • In one episode of The Mask the common cold turns out to be the only thing that can kill the Mask. The symptoms are actually numbered from one to seven, and serve as a sort of countdown to doom.
  • Chowder experiences the effects of eating a raw Puckerberry as Mung lists them.
  • The Boondocks - The Fried Chicken Flu episode has Huey explaining to Jasmine the symptoms of the eponymous disease while Tom suffers the effects of salmonella poisoning, having eaten tainted Buffalo Wings.

Real Life

  • Happens and inverted with people known as hypochondriacs. On one hand, they do give themselves symptoms when someone tells them about a disease. On the other hand, sometimes they will do the opposite, they'll have genuine symptoms of something, but they're usually generic (the typical headache, nausea, fever, etc.) Rather than assume something benign, such as a cold, they tend to automatically assume it's a rare fatal disease and they only have months to live.
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