There are many diseases that your doctor can't cure. Here are five well known examples: arthritis, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, cancer - and of course number six is love. "Ain't no cure for love." (Leonard Cohen).
What if you have a disease your doctor can't cure? Why can't it be cured?
Maybe we should take a moment to clarify what I mean by cure. I like Merriam-Webster's definition cure: "2. a : recovery or relief from a disease", and "3. : a complete or permanent solution or remedy". Wikipedia defines remission as "a temporary end to the medical signs and symptoms of an incurable disease." A remission is not a cure. Treating symptoms is not a cure.
If your doctor wants to cure cancer by surgery: 'cutting out the affected part', it's not a cure. If you have prostate cancer - and your doctor cuts out your prostate - they didn't cure it. They only moved you closer to the famous joke: "The operation was a success, but the patient died anyways."
Why can we cure some diseases - but not others? How can you recognize a disease your doctor can't cure?
We cannot cure a disease unless we know the cause. Let's look at arthritis. You can substitute many different incurable diseases in the following discussion.
We don't know the cause of arthritis, so we can't cure it.
We do know some causes of arthritis. Like cancer, we know dozens, maybe hundreds of causes of arthritis. And every one of them is correct. every one is an important, valid cause of arthritis. But when most doctors are presented with a specific case of arthritis - there is usually no search for the cause. There is simply a search for 'relief from symptoms'. We know that arthritis is a degenerative disease. We treat the symptoms - it continues, to gets worse, slowly, over time. It will only get better when we treat the cause.
Why don't we treat the cause? Why don't we know the cause?
Finding the cause of a specific incidence of arthritis is very difficult, and very time consuming. All disease is caused by deficiency or excess. But what deficiency, or what excess might be causing a specific person's arthritis? Arthritis gets more complicated. Arthritis is a degenerative disease, it can get worse over time. The cause might be simple, a single deficiency or excess. Or it might be complex. There might be several deficiencies and excesses contributing to a single case of arthritis. There might be a chain of causes, as we grow older and our life changes, our diet changes. Maybe it changed from one arthritis cause to another arthritis cause? Arthritis is also difficult to measure - and may wax and wane over time.
As a result, our medical system chooses to treat the symptoms of arthritis (and many diseases) rather than tackling the cause. The cost of searching for the cause is more (for the medical system) than treating the symptom. However, the cost to the patient is more if the cause is not addressed.
So, arthritis is a disease we can't cure. It's not actually. In many cases, arthritis is a disease we can cure, we just choose to 'not cure'. If we think we can't, we can't. We will not succeed until we try.
And so it goes with all of the diseases we cannot cure. We give up searching for the cause. We treat the symptoms.
A doctor has a specific set of tools. The basics, tools to observe the patient's status and symptoms. Lab tests to measure more about the patient's status. X-rays and many other tools that peer into the body. There are dozens, hundreds of medical tools, very precise, well engineered, sophisticated.
But what tools does a doctor have to track the cause of arthritis? What tools does does the doctor have to monitor success, or failure of your battle against arthritis (or any other disease that our medical system can't cure)? Our medical system's tools for finding cause are very weak.
Is treating the symptoms ever a good idea? Yes.
Symptoms disrupt our well being. Pain can cause disability. Treating symptoms is often very important - WHILE WE SEARCH FOR THE CAUSE. But if we treat symptoms and stop looking for the cause, we admit defeat. And in some specific cases, the disease is clearly so far advanced that treating the symptoms is the only option. However, arthritis is a very slow disease. If we can locate the cause before significant damage is done - there will be no need to treat the symptoms of an advanced state of the disease.
If you have a disease your doctor can't cure, don't give up. Search for the cause.
Everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of healthiness.
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Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: