So what’s the problem with our conventional medical treatment model? How does that affect the patient? What needs to change?
Acute care was touched upon on the “what is functional medicine?” page. The acute care approach is not a blanket model that can be applied to anything, our needs have changed, and something different is needed for chronic care, which nowadays is the dominant need for our healthcare system.
The acute care solution works extremely effectively in this modern age for things like infectious disease with immunization and antibiotics, it works for a heart attack, it works for a medical emergency. Our medical professionals have wonderful expertise with the latest technology, saving lives and restoring our bodies to health.
Thankfully, because of this medical progress, epidemics from many infectious diseases are a thing of the past. But, today’s epidemic comes in the form of chronic disease.
What is chronic disease or illness? Chronic means conditions that are long lasting and are considered to be controllable rather than curable. The most common ones are heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis. The list can go on with other conditions such as multiple sclerosis, asthma, COPD, crohn’s disease, lupus, obesity, dementia and alzheimers through to depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome and high blood pressure. And at the end of the scale, maybe not illness, but the undiagnosed complaints that people are just suffering through whilst putting up with a diminished quality of life, such as allergies, aches and pains, loss of energy, excessive tiredness and sleep problems.
Let us consider the nature of chronic disease, often we cannot pinpoint one definite cause. They are complex and multifactorial. Numerous causes can create multiple symptoms, and in ways unique to the individual. There is no A + B + C = D that would conveniently point to a common treatment that can bring success for everyone. Consider the doctor…there is no “you have this symptom, we will treat it with this medication, it will go and not come back.” The likely strategy is to provide treatment to bring some respite for the dominant symptoms, treatment to address the root cause usually isn’t an option. Chronic health problems either stay permanently or they return on a regular basis, and more than likely they will worsen. Therefore a variety of ailments with suffering, discomfort, frailness and disability become the norm…a depressing way to live, bringing limitations to patients’ working life, school life, home and family life. And also, let’s mention the frustration, the helplessness…getting passed on from doctor to specialist, to the next specialist, waiting and waiting for appointments and decisions. Before you know it considerable time is passing without relief.
And finally, as well as quality of life when living with chronic disease, there’s another matter to consider….cost. If a patient can’t work for a long period, are they adequately prepared for the income and insurance problems that may bring, along with associated extra expenses?
Let’s look further into conventional treatments with some common drugs, what are the concerns and dilemmas?
The action of a drug to alleviate a symptom may bring relief to a patient but the consequences elsewhere in the body as a result of that drug can be significant. Think back to the body’s systems (as brought up in “what is functional medicine?”), systems should be regarded as communicating and co-operating in relationships of synergy to benefit the whole. However, with systems being looked at and treated individually in our current conventional system of healthcare, knock on effects beyond a system aren’t always considered, or are seen as unavoidable. For instance, take commonly used NSAID’s (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) taken by arthritis sufferers as an example. They are used for easing symptoms in the musculoskeletal system. However, they can result in damage in the gastrointestinal system…a study by The American College of Gastroenterology found that “as many as 25% of chronic NSAID users will develop ulcer disease.”
Consider immunosuppressive drugs which are given to patients of chronic autoimmune conditions (incidently, the prevalence of autoimmune diseases has been increasing for sometime). The aim is to counter the overactive immune system that is attacking healthy cells by reducing immune system action. That may work to decrease that “rogue” immune activity, but, (and it’s a big but)…what about the other immune system processes throughout the body, you know, the ones that your body needs to fight off infection? Drugs aren’t on the market yet that can pinpoint only the damaging,overactive inflammation that is causing problems. Immunosuppressive drugs reduce all inflammation, even the vital, healthy inflammation that our immune system produces as a normal process of maintenance, repair, healing and protection. Therefore the patient’s defence system is compromised, open for all sorts of other problems to wander in.
If that’s not enough to worry about, immunosuppressants add the following concerns…studies have shown there is an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease in patients using immunosuppressive drugs.
So such treatments aren’t exactly an attractive option that present the ideal path to getting our health back. Patients accept the treatment options presented to them in the conventional medical system because they are mistaken into thinking that they are being offered the best choice, that the choice offered is the normal way to go. There are other choices but unfortunately regular doctors and specialists aren’t going to look beyond their paradigm to make you aware of them. There is a resistance to change, there is a resistance to what may be seen as the unconventional, there is a resistance to looking towards solutions. Conventional healthcare doesn’t believe that there are solutions, only problems to manage, we are told that chronic illness is part of ageing and that we must accept it. But people get tired of managing and living with their health problems, accepting them as the norm, there is a solution…the functional solution.