I would consider health to be the biological status of an individual and its deviation both positively and negatively from homeostasis.  Health can be affected by personal choice, culture, and environment.  To me, illness is a negative deviation from homeostasis that is experienced and perceived (but not limited to) the individual with the illness.  The illness should be preventable/manageable and relatively uncommon.

These definitions are strongly influenced by my family, my personal experience, and my education.  I believe my definition is very biologically based and in that way, limited to my familiarity with a biological definition of health.  My definition of illness is particularly influenced by my experiences and observations with my family and their bouts with “illness”.

In considering migraines an “illness”, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate someone else’s “migraine” from a bad headache.  To me, a headache is too common to be considered an illness and may go away on its own.  For this reason, it is difficult to immediately consider a migraine an “illness” since the observer cannot know the degree of pain experienced by the individual with the migraine.  However, a family member of mine is a frequent sufferer of migraines and not only has trouble parting with them with the use of strong medications, but has obvious outward deviations from what I would consider homeostasis.  The observer can almost sense, imagine, or relate to the degree of pain expressed by the individual with the migraine.  I would therefore, consider migraines an illness.

Spirit possession was somewhat difficult for me to consider an illness by my own definition but I believe my opinion is very biased due to my social and cultural context.  It is nothing that I believe is possible, but the point of view of the “possessed” or the view of someone within that cultural context is also important to consider.  They may vehemently believe what they are experiencing is an illness caused by spirit possession, but by my definition, may simply be explained by something like the flu.  I would say that spirit possession itself, is not an illness, but that the biological manifestation of the “possession” could be an illness.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Justin Kenton says:

    After reading your post and what you wrote about migraines, I thought I would see what I could find about other cultures and their thoughts about this “deviations from homeostasis”. When looking for information about migraines online, came across multiple sites that spoke of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Many of the sites I came across were not scholarly in writing, but I narrowed my search to Michigan State’s electronic library and found a book outlining the theories of TCM, which you can reference at the end of my writing.

    I learned a few interesting things about how the Chinese views problems or diseases with the body in context with traditional Chinese medicine. TCM is based on the concept of Yin- Yang and is a holistic approach where there is more attention to mental, spiritual, and natural or worldly connections. The body is a complex being and is divided up into mostly symmetric pieces. The main pieces are called meridians and the branches of the meridians are called collaterals. Disruptions in the brain that occur in migraines or headaches in general can be caused from a variety of different reasons but all involve messing up the qi, or energy flow to the head and also the blood flow. Practice is not just to heal the symptoms but to heal all the aspects of the individual and much of the TCM practice is preventative in nature.

    There is a huge amount of information about this topic and some of it is actually rather confusing in my opinion, but I think that traditional western medicine has a thing or two to learn from the holistic healing approach that TCM utilizes.

    Bing Zhu and Hongcai Zhu, Basic Theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine, (London: GBR. 2011).

  2. Karra Larkins says:

    Hi, after reading your post, I wanted to see how migraines and headaches were handled in another culture. In the Ecuadorian Amazon, migraines did not occur that often, it was referred to as a white man’s sickness. I found that the native peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon had a couple different ways of handling them when they did happen. Some tribes believed that headaches either occurred for no reason or were the witchcraft. Some of the other tribes think that it is a sprit that causes them. The sprit was sent by someone to either hurt or kill the victim. In that case the Shaman would give the patient a hallucinogenic drink and send in their sprit helper, a tsentsak, which would push out the other sprit causing the headache. Other times they would perform ceremonies to drive the sprit away.
    In other cases the tribes would employ the use of herbs to treat the migraine. They would use herbs like, acanthaceae, which would be boiled and rubbed on the head or other areas that were infected. Other times they would use aquifoliaceae, that would be used to make a brewed tea and the person suffering from the migraine would drink it to relieve the symptoms. However these herbs don’t always work and then they would go back to the spiritual methods.

    Russo Ethan, Headache Treatments By Native Peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon: A Preliminary Cross-Disciplinary Assessment, (Missoula, 2009).

  3. Meghan Kinter says:

    Suffering from migraine headaches myself, I was very interested in seeing how other cultures treat migraines. I am also very interested in the botany of South America so I decided to choose a tribe from the Americas, leading me to the Guarani tribe. The culture of the Guarani Indians of the forests of Paraguay is very different from that of Western culture focusing on more natural remedies opposed to the synthetic approach. The tribe originated in the forests of Paraguay and it is said that the Guarani had branched off from the larger civilization known as Caribe. The Guarani use herbal remedies many of which come from the Yerbamate tree. In Western herbal medicine Yerbamate is classified as a stimulant and aromatic but the Guarani found many more uses for the Yerbamate tree leaves, including the treatment of migraines. In the Guarani culture Yerbamate is used relieve migraines and other pains of the skull. This is much different than Western culture where we simply go to the nearest Rite Aid or Walgreens and pick up Aleeve or Excedrin.The Guarani tribe uses a much more natural remedy for migraine relief.

    Mowrey, Daniel B. “South American Herbs.”

  4. Angela Palmer says:

    Hi Alex,
    Your view on Migraines is interesting. I believe frequent chronic migraines is a disease. I agree with you that the problem with migraine diagnosis is the confusion regarding communication between the doctor and patient and also what the degree of pain or frequency needs to be in order to be properly diagnosed as a migraine. With each patient it can be different, pain tolerance is a big issue, stubbornness, and even size of the person could be variables. I believe headaches and migraines are illnesses but I believe chronic migraines is a disease.
    I did some research, and migraines are, in my opinion, taken in Germany just the same here in the USA. In Germany the majority of migraine sufferers do not report their symptoms to a physician, which means the majority of migraines in Germany are not treated properly. In fact, most of the sufferers use over-the-counter medications. Another similarity, I believe, between us and Germany is that a lot of people admit to headaches once in a while but don’t realize that severe headaches frequently in actually migraines. The article call migraine sufferers
    migraineurs”. I believe these migraineurs over in Germany are just too stubborn to seek medical help, which hits close to home for me. Me and my family are German and I’m too stubborn to take medications much more stubborn to go to the doctor. My whole family shares the same stubbornness. In fact, my grandpa swears to vinegar curing most ailments anyway.

    Andrea Radtke MD and Hannelor Neuhauser MD, “Prevalence and Burden of Headache and Migraine in Germany,” Heasache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 49 (1): 79-89, accessed July 6, 2013, doi:10.1111/j.1526-4610.2008.01263.x.

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