Follow TV Tropes


Sequential Symptom Syndrome

Go To

...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.

Clarification: The point is that the symptoms seem to be taking their cue from what the first character says. If the first character is simply watching the second character and reporting the second character's symptoms as they appear, it's not this trope.

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

Side Effects Include... and the Five Stages of Grief are often handled in a similar manner. Often a Diagnosis from Dr. Badass.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime And Manga 
  • In Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu Sousuke describes the effects of the trap he set, as we also see the coach who set them off experiencing the symptoms.
  • In Pororo the Little Penguin, this is subverted in "Crong's Stomach Pain". Pororo asks Crong if his stomach hurts, and Crong rubs his stomach. Then, Pororo asks Crong if he has a fever and puts an ice pack on his head, which melts... but then Pororo asks Crong if he's going to the bathroom a lot, and Crong simply nods.

    Comic Books 
  • This happens in Cerebus the Aardvark. In this case, the main character was conning someone into believing they had a plague, so the symptoms were largely psychosomatic.
  • In one 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • In the July 2, 2006 Garfield strip, Garfield asks a dog why he is at the vet. The dog says he's perfectly fine. Garfield responds back with detailing various ailments that the dog suddenly reacts to, eventually becoming a quivering mess on the floor.
    Jon: What's wrong with him?
    Garfield: He's fine, actually. [Dog coughing a fit next to him]

    Films — Animated 
  • The first segment in Saludos Amigos has Donald Duck visiting Lake Titicaca, and succumbing to the symptoms of altitude sickness as the narrator lists them off.
  • In Disney's The Sword in the Stone Merlin describes the effects of malignalitaloptereosis to Madame Mim, who experiences this first-hand.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Airplane!, Rumack describes the effects of the food poisoning in exhaustive detail, while the camera lingers on Oveur in the foreground, the poisoning's latest victim. He goes through each and every symptom in turn as Rumack describes it, the poor bastard collapsing when he is reduced to a quivering wasted piece of jelly.
  • Bullshot. After an attempt by the dastardly Otto von Bruno to bump him off with a poisonous spider, Bullshot is giving a Patriotic Fervor speech during which he turns green and starts enunciating rather oddly.
    Rosemary: Are you sure you weren't bitten by that spider earlier? Daddy's an expert and I know the symptoms.
    Bullshot: REALLY? WHAT-ARE-THEY?
    Rosemary: Ranting, hysteria, delusions of grandeur, constant saluting (Bullshot starts saluting), green complexion, all the usual things. The most tell-tale symptom is... swelling of the extremities!
    Bullshot: Damn! My tailor always did make my sleeves too tight! (sleeves bulge and wristwatch goes flying)
    Rosemary: That spider did bite you, didn't it?
    Bullshot: Probably.
    Rosemary: But its bite is fatal. It would kill the average man in seconds!
    Bullshot: I'M NOT AVERAGE! (keels over)
  • 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.
    The blood throughout your whole body goes to your head. It stops there, never comes down. But over time it will start to come out from your nose, your ears, even from your eyes. And then, you will die...painfully.
  • Star Trek (2009) has Dr McCoy giving Kirk a vaccine against viral infection from Levaran Mud Fleas in order to fake a medical emergency. He then treats 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!

  • Matthew Reilly uses this to introduce his fictional bio-weapon in Area 7. It mostly results in liquefaction of internal organs — in sequence.
  • In Dune, Feyd-Rautha is well known for describing the effects of the poisons he uses in the arena, though not on screen.
  • Invoked in The Midnight Gang, where Tom has recovered from his injury but wants to stay in the hospital so he can help his friends. Dr. Luppers asks if he's been experiencing symptoms and Tom affirms every one, acting them out in the process (for instance, when asked if he's experiencing blurred vision, he says, "Yes, but who is speaking?"). When Luppers asks Tom if he's experiencing "pain when [he] pass[es] water", Tom replies, "Yes, it hurt when I walked past a fish tank.", Luppers still buys it.
  • In Assassin's Apprentice, part of the Realm of the Elderlings collection, Prince Rurisk is poisoned whilst talking about poison. When the poison takes effect, Fitz and Kettricken believe he is pretending to be poisoned in order to emphasise his point.
  • In How To Be A Pirate, Hiccup trips a Monstrous Strangulator dragon into poisoning itself with its own venom. The Strangulator (under the impression that it has poisoned Hiccup) tells him the symptoms of the venom, not realising that it is going through them itself until it's too late.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the Austin & Ally episode "Spas & Spices", Austin takes a sip from Dez's chilli for the cookoff and starts hyperventillating, drinks water only to realize that it makes the burn worse, and finally cools himself with milk from a baby bottle...all while Dez describes it all to Nelson.
  • In the third Blackadder series episode "Nob and Nobility", the Scarlet Pimpernel unknowingly takes a suicide pill intended for someone else and explains the symptoms induced by it, oblivious to the fact that he's exhibiting each of them as he describes them (depression, loss of temper, forgetfulness, a moment of happiness, and then jumping into a corner to die).
  • 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. Up to and including "...and the standing lamp falls on your head."
  • In the Community episode "Epidemiology", the group hides from the zombie partygoers in the study room. Rich, the doctor, tries to hide the fact that he's been bitten and details the symptoms of the contagion. He's already displaying some of the symptoms he mentions, then adds one last one: slurred speech...with slurred speech.
  • Doctor Who. In "Orphan 55", Ryan Sinclair catches a biomechanical hopper virus from a Vengeful Vending Machine. The Doctor describes what's about to happen while rendering first aid.
    The Doctor: It's moving deeper inside you to mutate into your nervous system.
    Ryan: What?!!
    The Doctor: Important not to panic. Humans always have the same reaction to a hopper virus. First you get the wiggly fingers, which is a warning the legs are about to go. (catches Ryan as he falls.) Luckily, this is where my hopper first-aid training kicks in. Need to get rid of these... (empties a packet of snacks) ...then pinch your ear. (holds empty packet in front of Ryan's face) Then you're going to sneeze. (Ryan sneezes up the hopper into the packet.) Now suck your thumb until the hallucinations stop. And remember, they're not real bats. (Ryan starts flailing away at imaginary bats)
  • Joanna experiences this on Green Wing when Harriet rattles off a list of symptoms of pregnancy.
  • 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 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.
  • In The Nanny episode "Ode to Barbara Joan", Fran was explaining how kids deal with disappointment with C.C. experiencing each stage outside in the garden:
    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 on Niles's foot, which had been causing him agony from corns)
    And that concludes today's audio/visual demonstration.
  • In a Sesame Street skit, Bert has a cold, but Ernie doesn't know. All Ernie knows is that somebody has a cold and he's reciting symptoms from a book to determine who the invalid is. Firstly, he reads that sick people get into bed during the daytime, and Bert asks him to straighten out his blanket. Ernie doesn't pick up on this and instead looks out the window to see who might be at home. Upon finding no one, he consults his book again, and it says that sick people usually have fevers. Bert asks Ernie to feel his forehead, which he does, and finds that it's hot, but still doesn't realise Bert is the invalid. He consults his book again and finds that people with colds drink a lot of juice, and then Bert asks for juice.
  • Star Trek
    • 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. Somewhat justified as the character is a hypochondriac, though he actually has been suffering some of the symptoms described (such as excessive thirst and tingling in the extremities) but not some of the others. After the computer readout, he constantly tries to examine himself for the symptoms he hasn't yet suffered (such as vision problems). It turns out his problems are not transporter psychosis, but a different phenomenon that nonetheless did happen during transit in the transporter.
    • Star Trek: Voyager. In "Living Witness" a historian has written the crew of Voyager as evil. In his holodeck simulation, the Doctor tortures a man by injecting him with a fatal chemical, with a To the Pain description of the symptoms, such as the fact that his brain will start dissolving.

  • Bullshot Crummond. After a Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo, Bullshot lists the effects of the knockout drug he's slipped into Count Otto von Bruno's drink.
    Bullshot: You want to curse me von Bruno you can curse me now, for I have slipped you a deuced large Mickey Finn. You will shortly feel the effects. To begin with a crippling pain in your stomach. (Otto feels his stomach in alarm) Followed by slurred speeshhhh (breaks off into incoherence and keels over unconscious)
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • Bugs Bunny, describing the effects of Rabbititis in Hare Tonic.
    • Bugs does it twice in that episode- first to Elmer Fudd, then to the audience.
  • Chowder experiences the effects of eating a raw Puckerberry as Mung lists them.
  • In the Detentionaire episode "28 Sneezes Later", Lee experiences each symptom as Camillio lists them; humourously, one of the symptoms listed is itchy butt cramps.
  • After trying to hide it for several decades, Prof. Hubert Farnsworth finally confesses to his employees in the Futurama episode "The Tip of the Zoidberg" that he long ago contracted an illness known as Tritonian Hypermalaria. Amy reveals that she recognizes the disease as "the one that causes fever, insanity, spasms, coma and death", with Farnsworth acting out each symptom as it's said (save for death, which is instead a Beat followed by "Yes, you moron!")
  • Invoked by Garfield in Garfield's Thanksgiving, when he fakes the symptoms of vitamin deficiency as Liz lists them off so she'll let him off his diet.
  • In the Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats episode "Swamp Fever", Riff Raff tells Hector and Mungo about a cat disease called "catatosis", and when he lists the symptoms, they manifest in Wordsworth. The symptoms consist of a twitching right arm, a quivering lip, wildly spinning whiskers, flipping and flopping in one's sleep, barking like a dog, flapping one's arms like a bird, crying like a baby, and sleepwalking.
  • Happens to Helga in an episode of Hey Arnold! She looks up the symptoms of monkeynucleosis, a long-debunked disease, and is relieved when she finds out she only has the first symptom. Then, when the book slips from her hands, she realizes she has the second symptom, sweaty palms, and starts to notice the others showing up in sequence. Of course, since the disease isn't real, all of the new symptoms she notices are purely psychosomatic.
  • In King of the Hill when Nancy reads the symptoms of rabies to Dale after getting raccoon scratches. There's chills ("I'm cold, Nancy... so cold." "You're in your underwear, Shug."), sore throat ([puffs cigarette smoke] "My throat's on fire!"), diarrhea ("Go on."), and being anxious and fearful of things with no clear reason ("ahh!!... Nancy, I think I have rabies!").
  • In the Little Bear episode "A Flu", Little Bear has the flu, and Cat and Duck have seen the flu in other animals. Cat mentions that he knew a cat who had the flu and sneezed a lot, then Little Bear sneezes. Then, Duck mentions that she knew a duck who had the flu and broke out in a rash, which caused Little Bear (and also Cat, but that was psychosomatic) to start itching.
  • In the Little Princess episode "I Don't Want a Cold", the Princess does this with herself (and her hypochondriac cat) via flashbacks when complaining about said cold. She mentions that the disease "blows out of [her] mouth" (followed by a flashback of her and Puss sneezing), "runs out of [her] nose" (followed by a flashback of her and then Puss blowing their noses), and "coughs out of [her] chest" (followed by a flashback of her and Puss suffering coughing fits).
  • 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.
  • The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show episode "Outbreak" has Mr. Hobson experiencing the symptoms of a prehistoric flu one by one as Mr. Peabody reads them from a book.
  • On Rocket Power, Reggie and Otto get the "Fiji flu" from Sam. The doctor describes a few of the symptoms being a high-pitched voice and irritability. As expected, they undergo both.
  • In The Simpsons:
    • In 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 "The Last Barfighter", Moe plays a video to Homer, Lenny and Carl about Barney going through every stage of anti-buse while Moe lists them.
    • In "Crystal Blue Haired Persuasion", after Marge gives Bart a cheaper ADHD medicine because they have to cut down on their medical expenses, Lisa shows her an internet video in which a doctor warns about the dangers of this medicine. As the doctor lists off the side effects, Bart immediately experiences every single one of them.
  • The "Ice Station Impossible!" episode of The Venture Brothers features the Goliath Serum, a drug that turn the recipient into a living bomb. As Brock and the boys watch a filmstrip describing the serum, Hank obliviously displays the symptoms of the first two stages.
  • In the Total Drama Action episode "One Flu Over the Cuckoos", as Harold lists the symptoms of "Mortatistical Crumples Disease," all the other contestants demonstrate those very symptoms (Lindsay has explosive diarrhea, Justin has itchy lips, Beth has hot flashes, Heather is nauseous, and Izzy is speaking in tongues). He's relieved that nobody seems to have the final symptom, blindness... then he bumps into Izzy and freaks out that he's gone blind.

    Real Life 


Video Example(s):


Mortatistical Crumples Disease

As Harold lists the symptoms of a fatal disease Owen apparently has, the other contestants reveal that they have those exact symptoms.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (17 votes)

Example of:

Main / SequentialSymptomSyndrome

Media sources: