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Diagnosis, Demystified

Updated: Jan 31

If you are unwell, you are understandably seeking a diagnosis for your condition. In the Western medical model, that diagnosis; the naming of the process that is going on, is usually the first step towards treatment. Yet the vast majority of diagnoses are just your symptoms translated into Latin. You know what your symptoms are, because you are the one experiencing them! Here’s how diagnostic language breaks down: Acute means short term. Symptoms came on suddenly, and can generally be expected to resolve completely. Chronic means long lasting, maybe life-long. Chronic conditions often come on slowly, but can be triggered by an acute problem, which then lingers. “-itis” means inflammation, with these classic 4 symptoms:

  • Heat

  • Redness

  • Swelling

  • Tenderness

An “-itis” can be short or long term, depending on how long the inflammation continues: sinusitis can be a short acute ailment, easily treated, whereas arthritis may be for life, but the inflammation and pain can be managed. The symptoms of inflammation can really bring themselves to your attention in an acute reaction! But low-level inflammation may go unnoticed, and predispose to a number of chronic conditions. Putting it in context: “hep” refers to the liver so hepatitis is an inflamed liver; “arthro” means joint, so arthritis is inflamed joints, and similarly in bronchitis, tonsillitis etc. “-algia” refers to pain. For example, neuralgia is pain in the nerves and fibromyalgia describes pain in muscles. “-osis” means a medical condition in an organ or system, for example diverticulosis means diverticulae (little pouches) are present in the colon. If they get inflamed, then it’s called diverticulitis. An -osis is often a long-term problem, and may be degenerative, progressively worsening over time. For example, osteoporosis. Many of these conditions can be slowed or even turned around by natural supportive treatments. Hypo..” means something that is operating below par, as in hypothyroidism meaning low thyroid function. “Hyper..” means something is too high such as hyperglycemia, meaning a high sugar level in the blood. When spoken these sound very much the same, which can be confusing! Some conditions are named after the person who discovered or first studied them, for example Dupuytren’s contracture (hard tight tendons holding the fingers bent). Hashimoto’s thyroiditis has the honour of having both the name of the discoverer and the Latin description of the symptoms! More recently some diseases have been named in English: Long Covid is defined as symptoms that have continued longer than 4 weeks after a Covid infection. Fatty Liver is just what you’d expect it to be. If you would like to learn more about Fatty Liver and ways to help deal with it, check out our Liver Masterclass. Other conditions with English names have been around long enough to have been given acronyms, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). A syndrome is a constellation of symptoms that often occur together. You don’t need to have all of the associated symptoms to be diagnosed with a syndrome. One example of this is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). And not all sets of symptoms fall into Western diagnostic categories. That’s why we, as naturopathic doctors, appreciate having other approaches to analyze our patients’ condition: Functional Medicine, Nutritional Analysis, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Homeopathic Case Analysis to name a few. But a diagnosis doesn’t tell you the cause of the condition: it describes what is going on, but says nothing about why it is happening, or what you can do about it. Working that out is the next step if you want to treat the cause. This is exactly what a Naturopathic doctor can do for you.

A naturopathic doctor will use your diagnosis as a clue towards understanding what went wrong, when and why. They will consider it in the context of your life, for example:

  • has your lifestyle created deficiencies or excesses that have become harmful to you?

  • did you have an infection and treatment for that, and did either of those leave you feeling below par?

  • did you get exposed to pesticides, molds or other health-compromising factors?

  • did you undergo a period of intense stress?

  • did you experience a shock, grief or loss?

  • did you have a physical fall, concussion or other injury?

  • have you “never been well since” a time, experience or illness in your life?

This is why an initial visit with a naturopathic doctor is typically an hour or more. We look for treatment that takes all of this into account: much more than just the symptoms that you are experiencing. That’s why we call it holistic, integrative medicine.

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