Treat the Symptom? The Disease? Or BOTH


This post comes on the heels of my most recent post…”Let Me Clarify.”  Apparently I didn’t clarify well enough because I still get questions. I guess I will say it in the only other way I can think of…

Many of the readers of this page have heard a catchy saying, “treat the disease not the symptom.“ It makes sense, right? I’ve used the expression myself… a lot. If you have an infection, taking Tylenol for the fever (symptom) will not resolve the underlying infection (disease). Good analogy. It makes sense because frequently in traditional medical care, we typically only treat the symptoms, often ignoring or even worsening the underlying disease.

But as catchy as the saying is, there are times where it is JUST NOT COMPLETELY SAFE. If your symptoms are life-threatening or could cause further damage, then something needs to be done about that, WHILE ALSO treating the underlying disease. You cannot just ignore the symptoms, when they could cause you serious bodily injury.

A few years ago my family was on vacation. Prior to leaving for vacation, my son had the “sniffles.“ Nothing major, he just didn’t feel all that great. Midway through the vacation, I could tell that something was drastically wrong with him. I dragged out my “mom” bag and checked his temperature only to be shocked that he was running a fever of over 107°. While my husband was on the telephone finding the nearest emergency room, I placed my son into a bathtub to gently cool him down as well as giving him the max dose of Tylenol that was acceptable for his age and weight. Why? Tylenol would not fix the underlying problem. True. But right now his symptoms were life-threatening. So I was not going to ignore the symptoms, for the sake of the disease (pneumonia). I NEEDED TO TREAT BOTH, for now.  We continued treating with Tylenol, and the antibiotics he received from his hospital visit, until the fevers were brought to an acceptable level. Then, I tapered down on the Tylenol and gave it really only for comfort measures while we continued to treat with antibiotics until the infection was gone.

As I have written about many times, I have serious concern that many people with diabetes, for the sake of “treating the underlying disease,” are ignoring life-threatening “symptoms.” People are allowing blood glucose to be elevated to astronomical levels under the assumption that they are treating the underlying disease by stopping their insulin. Instead, a safer alternative would be to normalize blood glucose and embark on the most aggressive lifestyle changes that you are able to make and live with. Your “symptoms” will most likely drastically improve rapidly, which will also allow you to taper down or off from whatever treatments you are using.

There was no way I was going to ignore my sons “symptom” of 107° because it didn’t “fix“ the underlying problem. Leaving the fever untreated would have only lead to possible further complications. But because we treated BOTH the life threatening SYMPTOM while ALSO treating the underlying disease, he got well quickly, and suffered no ill affects to his long-term health. We were quickly able to stop the treatment for the symptom while continuing to treat the “disease.”

This is what I wish for you. That you use your current treatment (not necessarily at the same DOSE, obviously) to control any “symptoms” that could potentially cause further complications while you aggressively treat the underlying “disease” with lifestyle changes. Very quickly you will notice that your need for treating the symptom will lessen and lessen, maybe be eliminated.  It’s not like it’s going to be forever!  I’ve seen people get blood sugar under control in a matter of days to weeks when they begin to make drastic changes to their lifestyle.  There is just no reason to further jeopardize your health by completely ignoring “symptoms.”

Wishing you good health…safely 😉