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Michael Rothman MD Articles

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Why Symptomatic Treatment Doesn't Work

Most medical and many natural modalities are focused on treating symptoms. This approach, however, is usually doomed to fail.

Why is this?

Symptoms are manifestations of one or more imbalances to a person’s system. These imbalances may be structural (in the muscles and the bones) biochemical (hormones, minerals, fatty acids, acid-base) or energetic (stress, psychic phenomena, flow disturbances).

If the focus of treatments is on the symptoms, not the underlying imbalance, than the treatment may offer temporary relief, but in the long run, will be ineffective, and possibly damaging.

Let me give an example. Say you have problems with insomnia, but the cause of the problem is that your autonomic nervous system (one of the major control mechanisms of the body) is unbalanced. The doctor gives you a drug that is “good for insomnia”. The drug however, happens to further increase the autonomic (in this case parasympathetic) imbalance.

What happens? Well maybe the insomnia gets a little better, maybe it gets a little worse, but overall your condition worsens. Now maybe there are more signs of parasympathetic imbalance, such as lethargy, runny nose, and poor circulation. These would be considered “side effects” of the drug.

Let use an automobile repair to illustrate this concept.

Imagine that you are driving your car and it starts to stall out every time you are sitting and idling. You bring the car to a mechanic. Instead of dong a diagnostic evaluation on the car, he quickly declares, “ Well I can fix that”. He then proceeds to increase the idle speed of your engine.

So now when you are sitting at a red light, the car no longer stalls out. However, since the idle speed has been increased, you find that you are constantly hitting the brakes to keep from going too fast.

You bring the car back to the same mechanic that “helped” you the first time. You tell him what the problem is now; he states, “ I can fix that”. He then proceeds to partially apply your parking brake and tells you to drive around with the brakes on.

Now your car is not stalling out when you stop and no longer is speeding along when you are in idle, but a new problem has arisen. You notice that the gas mileage is down, the car is starting to overheat, and the acceleration is poor.

Again, you bring the car to the mechanic. This time he states that the gas mileage and the poor acceleration are because “your car is getting old”. He recommends installing a cooling system to lower the engine temperature.

You decide not to go this route. You take your car to another mechanic. He does a diagnostic evaluation , correctly analyzes the situation and finds out that you need new spark plugs. They were the cause of the initial stalling problem. He resets your idle speed, releases the parking brake and now your car works “as good as new”.

Now obviously this little car story is a bit ridiculous. However, countless patients have had their systems further disturbed and imbalanced by well meaning doctors and healers treating their symptoms.

This does not mean that symptoms are not important or should be ignored.

Symptoms are the reason the patient came for help in the first place. Symptoms are signs of imbalances. Patterns of symptoms may provide clues to underlying imbalances. Symptomatic improvements (or lack of) must be tracked as one method of evaluating overall clinical improvement.
Symptomatic treatment that does not address the cause of the problem will always promote new imbalances.

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