In medicine, we use the term acute to refer to an illness or disease that comes on suddenly, and doesn’t last long. Heart attacks are acute. Colds and flu are, too. Acute illnesses tend to either get better fairly quickly–with treatment, or often without–or kill you. Usually, it’s the former.
We see our fair share of acute problems: infections, injuries, colds, flu, sore throats, and all manner of other complaints that need to be dealt with.
Where naturopathic medicine shines even brighter, however, is in chronic illness. Unlike an acute problem, chronic conditions come on far more slowly, often getting worse over time. Arthritis. IBS. Crohn’s and colitis. Persistent back pain. Recurring migraines. Heart disease, kidney disease. It’s a long list. And unlike acute problems, they don’t go away on their own, at least not for long. They’re stubborn, and they take a special approach. Here’s why.
The Two Challenges of Chronic Illness
Beyond the obvious problem that they keep hanging around messing up your life, chronic problems have two other distinct challenges:
- They’re difficult to diagnose. Acute problems often have readily identifiable causes. That broken leg? It’s because you broke your leg. There’s no mystery. Typical solution? Pain control, reset, cast, heal, and done. Chronic migraines, though? Wow. It could be hormonal imbalances. Environmental toxins. Musculoskeletal imbalances. Stress. Food intolerances. Chronic diagnosis is an art form. It takes time and experience, and that’s why ND’s seem to take forever during your initial visit. The more persistent and mysterious the problem, the more information we need. We’re the Sherlock Holmes of health care.
- They’re challenging to fix. Moreover, it’s not just the diagnosis that’s tricky, treating chronic problems is no cakewalk either. Not because the treatments don’t work, but because they’re harder to do. Acute conditions are often dealt with quickly–take a pill, get a cast, rub on a cream. Then wait. Chronic conditions are a whole different story. They take longer, and worse still, they often require significant lifestyle change on the part of the patient. You have to change the way you live your life, and that’s a lot more demanding than taking a pill.
Chronic Problems meet Acute Expectations
Of course, that’s where things get tricky. As a culture, we’re not accustomed to the challenges of fixing chronic complaints. We’re used to acute solutions–the pills, the injections, the bandages. We’re used to looking for the “one thing” that is responsible for our symptoms, and the “one thing” that will fix it.
Unfortunately, in the majority of cases there really isn’t “one thing” at all. The real cause of a chronic illness generally is a result of long-term “un-wellness”. In effect, it’s lots of things.
It’s months of poor sleep. It’s years of crappy eating. It’s one too many glasses of wine and too few glasses of water. It’s no movement and lots of TV watching. It’s years of exposure to chemicals. It’s a host of chronic behaviors that give a chronic result: a body that can never fully heal and recover.
Basically, it’s a host of chronic behaviors that give a chronic result: a body that can never fully heal and recover. A body that’s overwhelmed with inflammation, raging with out-of-whack hormones and low-grade nutritional deficiencies. A body–and its owner–that has energy in the toilet, poor sleep, crappy moods, even crappier digestion, and a lackluster sex life.
That’s more than chronic illness. It’s chronic unhappiness, discomfort, and confusion.
Most chronic symptoms are really the body screaming at its owner to take better care of it overall.
The good news is that despite all these obstacles, much chronic disease is still very treatable. You can change, and you can see the results. We do every day!