Health vs. sickness, does absence of symptoms = health….. or not?

Medication presently plays a huge role in the context of medicalization and biomedicalization. With the dawn of the informed patient, medication is meant to be an exogenous substance introduced into the body to alter its function, usually to enhance an aspect of health that has been perceived as subpar. This is a very powerful message when applying this mentality to the human condition: perception of aspects of one’s health as being less than normal. When has anyone not looked in the mirror and perceived themselves as “not good enough?” when there is a self-perception as being “less than” in any aspect whether it be purely external appearance or in terms of subjective experiences “symptoms.” It is this ideal of a perfect person or perfect state of being that people are constantly striving toward and one’s health is no different

The dichotomy I’d like to discuss is the concept of Healthy vs. sick and the influence of medicalization and biomedicalization on both sides of this dichotomy. A different concept of health is this: health is not the absence of symptoms, but rather the body’s own ability to adapt to situations to keep the individual alive.

Let’s take an example from our everyday experience. Let’s say you went out all night with your friends and went to a new sushi restaurant. The food was good, you had a great time, and you got the number off one of the waitresses, not a bad night over all. That night you go home and you feel a crippling pain in your stomach and the words “FOOD POISONING” start flashing in your mind’s eye in big bold letters and you start kicking yourself for having gone out for sushi. After the first bout of diarrhea, you decide to pop some Imodium, but why did you do this? The thought process was, “I’m experiencing discomfort in the form of diarrhea, I have symptoms, I am therefore sick and need medication.” You just so happen to have this magic pill in your cabinet that will cease the diarrhea. Most would look at this individual and think that they were suffering from diarrhea and tell them to do the same thing, which is pop some Imodium. However, the diarrhea was not the cause of the discomfort, the presence of a harmful microbe was the cause of the diarrhea (which then categorizes the diarrhea as a symptom). So would you look at this diarrhea-ridden individual and say that they were sick? That is incorrect. This individual is not sick. This individual is displaying health in the purest sense. They are experiencing symptoms, but these symptoms are the body’s natural reaction to a microbe that it knows will hurt it. Expelling the microbe in this case is the priority of the body, which is unless it wants that microbe to stay within the gastrointestinal system and cause further problems. So then in an attempt to expel the microbe, you end up seeing your 15$ per roll sushi again. This expulsion is the body’s natural reaction to foreign invaders that it isn’t able to handle, yet most would look at this individual and say that they were sick, yet if it is the body’s means to protect itself from further bacterial infection, then I would honestly be more worried for the individual if they weren’t expelling the bacteria and it caused a severe infection.

This dichotomy of health vs. sickness is driven by pharmaceutical companies for profits. They offer a product or service to cater to the patient’s symptoms which is of course a noble action. Helping reduce the suffering of individuals is of course a generous and almost saintly cause, however there is a disconnect between what health and sickness truly are. This stems from the current definition of health, which was defined earlier in this quarter as the absence of symptoms, and this seems to the be the definition currently accepted by most of the medical profession and this is where the biggest disconnect is. Health is not the absence of symptoms, symptoms only hint at an underlying cause. If you had taken the immodium, then the diarrhea is gone, your symptoms are gone then you are defined by the medical community as “healthy” once more, when in fact you still have that microbe in your gastrointestinal system trying to make it’s way into your body. If your body is healthy, then it will be able to either expel the microbe or launch an immune response to save the individual.

Now let’s take the opposite side. Let’s say the individual ate the bad sushi and that night fealt no symptoms yet died 3 days later. From the medical definition of health, this person had no symptoms and was therefore healthy even though they died. However, if this person was dealing with the microbe appropriately, then the individual would have at least some symptoms while they were in the process of ridding the microbe from their body, in which case the person would still be alive. That is the true definition of health: the body’s ability to adapt and self heal. So you can see that there is a big disconnect between pharmaceutical companies wanting to help and then how hey help suffering individuals.

This disconnect in the pharmaceutical companies actions is rooted in western society’s definition of health as the absence of symptoms.

 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jenelle Dushane says:

    I like this dichotomy, it goes along with the videos we watched in class this week. How pharmaceuticals are redefining sickness by it broad symptoms to sell their drugs. Such as in the Menstruation video they take the normal symptoms and reframe them as being abnormal and they diagnose it as an illness. Also the video on pills, especially the part where it talks about male and female sex enhancements, and how most men or women may just be having a harder time that is more a natural cause but are being prescribed meds anyway. It even talks about how if women had someone to do all their work for them they would not need a pill.
    It is important for clinicians to understand this dichotomy so they do not over prescribe people. If we truly understood which symptoms are actually chronic or harmful and not just normal everyday symptoms there would be less prescription meds out in the world. On the other hand this could lead to more deaths because sometimes these meds help prevent things that haven’t even shown symptoms yet. Currently clinicians and pharmaceuticals look to find a problem with everyone so they can make more money.
    I believe some people are looking at their prescriptions and think, do I really need this? And sometimes they may not, but clinicians will not tell you otherwise. People need to know if they are truly at risk for these illness they are diagnosed with because it could lead to making them worse off in the end.

  2. Nia Franklin says:

    I feel like this is the most important dichotomy for clinicians to understand. Health can be defined by the presence of symptoms. Like stated above someone displaying symptoms would claim they are sick but someone who didn’t display any symptoms at all would claim they are healthy. I agree that health and sickness is for pharmaceutical profit. Many pharmaceuticals don’t treat the illness but simply post pone the symptoms. Many believe that if you are not displaying symptoms then you are healthy but that is not always the case. I suffered from a bladder infection back in 2011 which eventually turned into a kidney infection because I thought I was healthy due to lack of symptoms. I thought I was healthy because I was no longer experiencing symptoms of a bladder infection. It wasn’t until I awoke one night with excruciating pain in my back that I realized I was still sick. It is important for clinicians to understand health and sickness because so they do not over prescribe someone medication and that they understand that symptoms don’t necessarily mean someone is healthy. It’s important to understand and be able to balance prescribing medication. Prescribing too much because of the symptoms displayed could be harmful to the patient but it could be equally or even more harmful to not prescribe at all because someone is not displaying symptoms at all. It is important for doctors to be thorough and cover all their bases.

  3. Nia Franklin says:

    I feel like this is the most important dichotomy for clinicians to understand. Health can be defined by the presence of symptoms. Like stated above someone displaying symptoms would claim they are sick but someone who didn’t display any symptoms at all would claim they are healthy. I agree that health and sickness is for pharmaceutical profit. Many pharmaceuticals don’t treat the illness but simply post pone the symptoms. Many believe that if you are not displaying symptoms then you are healthy but that is not always the case. I suffered from a bladder infection back in 2011 which eventually turned into a kidney infection because I thought I was healthy due to lack of symptoms. I thought I was healthy because I was no longer experiencing symptoms of a bladder infection. It wasn’t until I awoke one night with excruciating pain in my back that I realized I was still sick. It is important for clinicians to understand health and sickness because so they do not over prescribe someone medication and that they understand that symptoms don’t necessarily mean someone is healthy. It’s important to understand and be able to balance prescribing medication. Prescribing too much because of the symptoms displayed could be harmful to the patient but it could be equally or even more harmful to not prescribe at all because someone is not displaying symptoms at all. It is important for doctors to be thorough and cover all their bases.

  4. Nia Franklin says:

    I feel like this is the most important dichotomy for clinicians to understand. Health can be defined by the presence of symptoms. Like stated above someone displaying symptoms would claim they are sick but someone who didn’t display any symptoms at all would claim they are healthy. I agree that health and sickness is for pharmaceutical profit. Many pharmaceuticals don’t treat the illness but simply post pone the symptoms. Many believe that if you are not displaying symptoms then you are healthy but that is not always the case. I suffered from a bladder infection back in 2011 which eventually turned into a kidney infection because I thought I was healthy due to lack of symptoms. I thought I was healthy because I was no longer experiencing symptoms of a bladder infection. It wasn’t until I awoke one night with excruciating pain in my back that I realized I was still sick. It is important for clinicians to understand health and sickness because so they do not over prescribe someone medication and that they understand that symptoms don’t necessarily mean someone is healthy. It’s important to understand and be able to balance prescribing medication. Prescribing too much because of the symptoms displayed could be harmful to the patient but it could be equally or even more harmful to not prescribe at all because someone is not displaying symptoms at all. It is important for doctors to be thorough and cover all their bases.

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