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Ask Dr. Gott 3/20

What's the definition of 'disease'?

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Posted: March 19, 2007 6:47 p.m.
Updated: April 3, 2007 5:00 a.m.
DEAR DR. GOTT: I have a question that has bothered me for years. It is probably one of the most irrelevant questions you've been asked in awhile.
    I have trouble with the fact that political correctness has moved any known condition that afflicts mankind into the category of disease.
    We have heart disease and kidney disease, and even cancer is considered a disease. I understand that some diseases can affect the heart, kidneys, etc., but, while growing up, it was my understanding that a disease was a microbial/viral invasion of the human body, such as bubonic plaque, cholera, smallpox or chickenpox, that, in most cases, is highly contagious.
    If we have problems with our heart because of arterial sclerosis, that isn't a disease, it's a condition brought on by abuse, neglect or heredity. The same is true with every major organ in the human body
    It is called kidney disease, when in reality the kidneys fail to function properly due to the fact that as we age our bodies do not function as well as they once did.
Therefore, I submit that even though disease seems to be the acceptable way to classify every malady, in reality, Parkinson's is not a disease: It is a condition of the body brought on by deteriorating brain function. Alzheimer's is not a disease. It is a condition, much as Parkinson's.
    Why is it so hard to call a spade a spade? Whooping cough, mumps, measles and polio are caused by outside influences and should be called what they are -- diseases. Heart, lung, brain and kidney problems are conditions that have been caused by the failure of the body to repair itself properly, and we should not accept blurring the difference between the two for political correctness. We have diseases and we have conditions that affect the human body.
    If this is nitpicking (insect infestation), I apologize.
    DEAR READER: The term "disease" refers to any negative abnormality in the body, whether it is cancer, infection, heart problems, diabetes and so forth. I believe that it is entirely appropriate for you to abandon your limited definition of "disease" and subscribe to the broad, nonpolitical, newer generalization that is the current standard. We are all subjected to varying diseases, only a few of which are caused by bacterial or viral infections.
    DEAR DR. GOTT: Many years ago, a magazine article told of an older man, a diabetic, who sustained a deep cut in his heel. Despite the physician's treatment, the wound would not heal. Finally, the man was given a series of treatments of breathing pure oxygen while in a pressurized chamber. The wound did respond to that and healed up remarkably well. Is hyperbaric oxygen therapy still in use today? What do you think of it?
    DEAR READER: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is still in use today and is a near-miraculous therapy for certain circulation problems, carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke inhalation, cyanide poisoning, some forms of anemia and decompression sickness. Many large hospitals have such oxygen chambers that have saved lives and positively affected patients' quality of life.
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