Illness Vs. Disease

Defining Illness and Disease

There is a distinction that is being made in some medical circles (e.g., the treatment of pain) that, in my opinion, should be more widely known and circulated. The distinction hearkens back to a differentiation made by Eric Cassell in the late 1970’s: “Disease, then, is something an organ has, illness is something a man has.” According to this way of thinking, disease is something that needs to be cured, such as infection, injury, toxic exposure, cell degeneration, etc. Illness is something that needs to be managed such as feelings of pain, discomfort, distress, weakness, fatigue, etc. Obviously, these two things are not mutually exclusive, and they often occur together. Fully understanding the difference between illness and disease, as well as how they can be treated, will help you understand how alternative treatments such as EEG biofeedback fit into a holistic treatment plan for disease and illness.

Disease usually causes illness, though one can have a disease without illness. For example, cardiac disease has been called the silent killer because you can have it without knowing it. If you do not know you have it, there will be no effects of illness, but you might die of the disease. Also, one can have an illness without having a diagnosed disease. Chronic pain, for example, often occurs when a person has pain but there is no diagnosable structural damage. When this is the case, biofeedback and BRT can help treat the illness. Importantly, while disease is usually the cause of illness, illness can affect the disease process and even cause a disease.

The Importance of this Distinction

So, why is this distinction important? There are a lot of reasons, but let’s touch on a couple. When you are sick (which usually involves disease plus illness), you should know what to expect when you go to someone seeking help. Just like you would not walk into a bakery and expect to leave with a pound of salami, you should not walk into the office of a physician trained in traditional, western medicine and expect to get help managing your illness. Traditionally trained medical doctors are trained to treat diseases.

They are trained basically in surgery and medicine which is aimed at curing some abnormal condition in a bodily organ or tissue. In the best of worlds, if/when the disease is cured, the illness remits. This, however, is not always what happens. If the disease is cured, but aspects of the illness remain, going back to the traditional physician to address your illness is apt to frustrate the physician and unlikely to not benefit you. Also, if an illness has caused your disease, getting the disease cured, but not addressing the illness, is apt to result in your developing the disease again. I could go on, but believe I’ve made the importance of this distinction clear.

When to Pursue Alternatives to Traditional, Western Medicine

Traditional medicine does not often make the distinction between disease and illness, which leads to unnecessary and unwise surgeries and prescriptions in a doomed attempt to cure an illness. There has been a hope and a belief that western medicine would cure all disease and illness, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that this is simply not to be. For your own well-being, and that of your loved ones, begin to try to make this distinction and seek out the proper health provider for what ails you. Alternatives to western medication can often be the best way to treat an illness.

Psychological and biofeedback services like those offered at Sadar Psychological and Sports Center are aimed at treating illness. Of course, they can also impact disease, if illness has preceded disease (e.g., years of stress/anxiety predate the onset of irritable bowel syndrome), or if illness has been fueling the ongoing disease process (e.g., anxiety/depression suppressing the body’s immune system rendering it unable to deal with the disease as it usually would).

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