To me, understanding the difference between health and illness almost requires knowledge of bothl. Health could be defined as the lack of illness/disease, and illness could be defined as being less than healthy. Health is the ability for a body to operate ‘normally’ and efficiently to sustain life, while also allowing for normal activities and reproduction. Health should not just refer to sustained life, but also the continuation of it. Illness, however, is when something disrupts normal health and physiology, resulting in a pathophysiological response in the body and signs and symptoms that are otherwise absent in a healthy individual. These definitions are determined by what is scientifically accepted in America and by accepted scientific theories.
My ideas of health and illness are heavily influenced by the society I live in, the ‘health culture’ that surrounds me, and the formal education I have received. Coming from a biomedical culture, my perceptions of the body and disease are dictated by biology (and other fields of science), normal versus abnormal, and some spiritual undertones. Most of what I believe in has been studied and proven to be effective in most cases by scientists who utilize the scientific method to find solutions. They establish a ‘normal’ individual, then assess the ‘abnormal’, or whoever falls out of normal range. Using this, they can create a treatment that will return the individual to normalcy. While widely accepted, this method has many flaws. My nursing education has given me some insight into diagnosis and the science behind America’s health system, but my anthropology background also supplies me with an understanding that health is just as subjective as other facets of culture and society.
I have chosen to evaluate erectile dysfunction and the flu. Both I consider to be an illness because they result in cellular death, a pathophysiological reaction within the body, or visible signs and symptoms within the patient. By forcing the patient into the ‘abnormal’ category, they either result in cellular death within the host, or lack of ability to sustain life. Health is often diagnosed when referring to only the person directly affected, but should actually involve looking at the effect on others as well. While ED may not be the most debilitating illness, without a functioning erection (in most cases), males cannot fertilize an ovum to carry on the human population. If this were to affect everyone, the human race could die out! Meanwhile, the flu enters the body and infects cells, leading to cellular death. Both cause a compromise of the normal physiological processes that are necessary to sustain life, and thus falling into the definition of a disease.