Understand Your Symptoms

by Patrick Quanten MD

"What are your symptoms?" is a common opening question of a doctor's consultation. It has always amazed me that we all seem to know what the doctor means. "Symptoms" is not an every day word, and yet it looks as if it has become a much-used one in common language. What does it mean and how can we improve our understanding of the symptoms we experience?

The definition of the word symptom is quite interesting in itself. It means: any sensation or change in bodily function, experienced by a patient, that is associated with a particular disease. Why is this interesting?

  • A symptom, per definition, has to relate to a "bodily function". This means that emotional disturbances or psychological problems are not symptoms. This explains why problems such as depression, paranoia or hallucinations are seen by the medical profession to stem from malfunctions in the brain.
  • The change or sensation can only be called a symptom when experienced by a "patient". And a patient is a person who is receiving medical care. So, any change a person observes when he is not being seen or treated by a doctor is not a symptom. This explains why the medical profession cannot take any notice of changes observed by other health practitioners such as iridologists, chiropractors or aura readers.
  • The change or sensation has to be associated with a "particular disease". When the change observed has not been written up as part of a known disease, it is not a symptom. This explains why it took so long for the medical profession to recognise the symptoms of ME, as the disease itself had not been recognised.

And why would the doctor be so interested in your symptoms?

Symptoms - what you feel, when you feel it, how it feels - all may contain clues as to what is causing you to feel this way. It is the doctor's task to figure out just that. His knowledge will throw up some general pointers when certain buttons are pushed. These buttons, the symptoms, are wired to a list of diseases, which will then label the patient.

Certain phrases are linked to probable causes of problems. "... like a tight band around the chest" or "pain in my left arm" light up the words heart attack in the doctors brain. On the other hand, if there is no immediate light that comes on, he will try and help you to press the right button. When you complain about a lack of energy, he is likely to question you further, an indication his lights have not come on yet! "Do you sleep well?", "How's your appetite?", "Do you manage your work normally?", "Do you have dizzy-spells?", "Are you breathless?" When you manage to find at least one deviation from normal amongst these, the doctor will be a lot happier as this relates to something he knows something about. If not, he is likely to organise some general tests hoping that he can then prove to you that there is nothing wrong.

In the medical context, a symptom is a static change of one or more bodily functions in the sense that it either is or isn't. One either has the symptom or one hasn't. It is not permitted to be ambiguous about this. If you are not quite sure then you haven't got the symptom!

Also, symptoms can only relate to diseases via a bodily connection. The disease is a malfunctioning of a body part, and the change in this function directly manifests as the symptom. If that direct connection has not been found or is not being recognised, then the symptom cannot be caused by that particular malfunctioning part. In this way the bunion on your big toe can never be a symptom of a subluxation of a vertebra, and neither can your arthritis be caused by a chronic gut problem.

A symptom is only a symptom if it leads directly to a recognised disease via a recognised pathway! (in medical terms)

And that's fine with me, except that we are only allowed to use one list of diseases and their pathways. One religion based on one bible.

And that's fine with me, except that all other religions are outlawed.

And that's fine with me, except that we are told we are lucky to live in a free society!

What happens when we go underground and we read other bibles? What happens when we find out other ways of describing disease and symptoms?

Symptoms are Dynamic

Here is a strange thing: vomiting is a sign of poisoning, but it is also used as a therapy to combat disease. How can such an obvious "malfunction" be good for you?

Well, I do remember my mother saying: If something has upset your system, you'll feel a lot better once it has come out. In other words, you go right ahead and vomit, because you will be a great deal healthier afterwards!

And you know what else she used to do? When we had a sore throat or a bad cold, she would give us hot drinks (even hot red wine with herbs), rubbed the chest in with Vick, wrapped us in a hot towel and send us to bed with two duvets (or the equivalent). You'll feel a lot better once you have sweated it out. Increase your temperature when you have a fever and you will recover so much quicker!

Makes sense? Not any longer, but it did for many thousands of years, and not only here but right across the globe. Why?

The short answer is because symptoms are dynamic; they express more than just one thing.

Remember the direct line leading from disease to body part dysfunction to symptom. You can also draw a direct line between disease and health whereby the line represents a decline in health and a balance shift towards disease. When this happens, at some point on this line, somewhere between health and disease the symptom will appear.

The symptom we observe is a mere point in time; a point somewhere between the time of our healthy state and the time of a total diseased state. The symptom by itself only expresses that point, but it tells us nothing about how we got there or where we are going from here. The doctor identifies the symptom, the point in time between total disease and health, as the disease itself and will proceed to treat the malfunction of the body part.

But what happens if we just step back a little and see where we were before we arrived at the point of the symptom and where we are likely to be going next?

  • When a poison is ingested, giving us the symptom of feeling extremely sick and ill, there are two ways forward. Either we retain the poison and it will take the body a long time to "make it safe" as the poison remains within the body and it will be more likely to contribute to "poison" the system eventually. Or, we vomit and remove the great majority of poison from our system, allowing a speedy recovery and reducing dramatically the long-term negative effects of stored poison.
  • When the body raises its temperature it might be because it is fighting an infection. When the infection is massive, the rise in temperature may become life-threatening as the body struggles to contain and overcome the problem. This leads to increasing illness. When the infection is minor, the bodily response will also be to raise the temperature, which now is effective in overcoming the disease (higher temperature reduces the multiplication rate of bacteria and viruses) and generally will lead us back to health.

These examples show clearly that the snapshot in time, the occurrence of a symptom, tells us nothing about where the body is going next. In order to understand whether the symptom is going to lead to more disease or is going to get us better, we need to comprehend the place the symptom takes within a time scale. What happened before is important, as well as observing the symptom change in time, combined with other signs and symptoms. Someone who is vomiting violently but otherwise doesn't feel very ill, is on his way up. Guaranteed!

Rather than isolating the symptom and regarding the symptom as the disease we could view the symptom as a sign sent out from the body to grab our attention. Something is not right, something has occurred that has upset or is upsetting the balance of the system, and it needs addressing. Putting the symptom in the right time frame and observing how it develops will tell us whether the body's own reaction to the problem is going to be enough to rectify the problem or whether it needs help. Help means help, not obstruction.

If it was left up to you and I to decide all the particular changes that are required for the body to throw off an infection, we would never ever manage the complicated and intricate body functions. This would result in a cacophony of muddled responses. Luckily the body knows exactly what to do and how to do it, and I would suggest that you stick with that. That is, if you want to regain your health. Obstructing the natural healing process will slow down the recovery dramatically and may even lead to further damage if the process has been halted all together. The body may need two kinds of help.

One is to leave it alone, and not to interfere with what it is trying to do. If it wants to vomit, then let it! And two is, when the body is struggling to mobilise enough force, enough power, to overcome the problem, we can help by adding the same things the body is already using. When a fever is required, we add heat to the body; when rest is required, we rest the body and the digestive system; when a cleaning process is in progress, we stimulate with bitters and astringent herbs.

Supporting the body has to be done within the limits of the body's own strength. A strong constitution and a generally healthy person can be stimulated much more than a weak frail old person. One has to remember that one can only use the available strength and energy of the body in order to rectify the problem. Artificial means, even used properly, will only add some extra power for a short period of time and usually will deplete the body's reserves even quicker.

Follow the body's lead and go as fast or as slow as the body can take. Stay in tune with the process, do not view all symptoms as definite diseases.

Symptoms are Multi-causal

A painful joint in an adult is, in the absence of any kind of recent injury, said to be a symptom of arthritis. Yet, Xrays and nowadays much more sophisticated imaging more often than not fail to reveal any kind of arthritic damage to that joint. The conclusion is that the disease is in its early stages, but be patient and wait long enough so that the diagnosis will be confirmed as you develop a full-blown arthritic syndrome.

Arthritis is per definition an inflammation of a joint. The symptoms of inflammation are: pain, swelling, redness and heat. Yet, many "arthritic" joints fail to display these symptoms and are definitely cold, pale and hardly swollen at all. The sole reason for classifying these joints as arthritic is that they are painful. Or maybe they are just stiff? Ah well, stiffness causes discomfort and that comes under the pain heading, so it must be arthritis!

All diagnosed arthritic joints are treated with anti-inflammatories, even though most "arthritic" joints do not display any inflammation symptoms.

The main failure of the medical system in this instance is the inability to consider a single symptom to be caused by a wide variety of problems, or even more accurately, for a wide variety of problems to have contributed to the symptom before you. As far as the diagnosis arthritis is concerned we can cite subluxations of vertebra and pelvis, chronic muscular spasm of muscles around the affected joint, falls and accidents going back many years, toxicity of the body, chronic lack of use of the muscles and joints affected, and lack of heat and oil in the diet. And these are just a few frequently occurring contributing factors.

From the short list above we can immediately see that, apart from the accidents, all other "causes" of arthritis are easily dealt with, which makes arthritis an almost entirely avoidable problem. This is in sharp contrast with the statistics and the amount of suffering caused by the problem in this day and age.

Similarly, the cause of an infection is not the bacteria or the virus that is isolated from the infection site. We know that almost all known germs are also known to be either totally ineffective in infecting a healthy person, or they are known to be essential for a normal working body (friendly bacteria). This poses the very important question: What turns a friendly bacteria into a killing machine?

Science has known for a very long time that bacteria, viruses, fungi and the like, only grow in certain circumstances. Change the environment and a certain lot will die off, whilst another set will grow. In laboratory conditions, they know that if they choose the wrong environment they will not grow the bacteria they are looking for, even when they are present in the specimen. It is specifically this knowledge that somehow gets forgotten when we transpose the Petri dish for a human organ.

The cause of an infection always lies in the environment in which the bacteria, virus or fungus grows. Growth of the germ depends on the ground it feeds on. Healthy tissue and organs may have bacteria, viruses or fungi growing on them without harming them, in effect helping them to remain healthy and perform the task the organ is supposed to carry out. The best known example of this is our digestive system, which is full of a variety of germs. Given the right circumstances, the balance between all of them will ensure a perfectly operating digestion and absorption of all food items. This balance will occur naturally for as long as all the tissues within the stomach and gut are perfectly healthy. Once these tissues, all or in parts, start to change, to deteriorate, other germs will emerge and the function of the organ will be greatly disturbed.

This means that "having an infection" is a symptom telling us that the health of the underlying tissue has changed and the body has reacted by growing different germs, thus affecting the function of the organ, in an effort to clean the tissue up. Pus and debris are a regular occurrence in a state of infection, and noting that the living bacteria on healthy tissue do not produce pus, one has to ask the question: Where does the pus come from?

Well, we now know that the tissue, which became "infected", was no longer healthy. Rotting tissue produces debris in the same way that rotting fruit disintegrates and ferments, leaving a soggy mess on the table top. So, the pus is actually disintegrating organ tissue and the bacteria growing on it help to break the debris down and clean up the mess, in the same way that, if you left the rotting fruit for long enough the mess would gradually dry out and drastically reduce in volume and all you would be left with is a very small, dried up, clean sediment.

If we then want to know what the symptom of infection is telling us, we will have to say that the main message is: healthy tissue has gone rotten. What has caused this deterioration in the health status of the tissue or the organ? And it is here that the symptom, once again, shows a great variety of negative influences, all contributing towards the demise of the natural environment. All kinds of poisons play a major part, whether they have accumulated from food, water, or air, or from vibrational "poisons", such as unnatural radiation. Chronic mis-management of the organ's functions is another common problem. This can occur because the nervous system's access to the organ has been interfered it ("pinched" nerves, vertebral subluxations), or because of the nervous system's unbalanced use of the resources within the organ (depression, stress, fear).

Similar reasoning shows us the variety of possible causes behind all symptoms and consequently behind all diseases. No two people with the same symptoms, or the same diagnosed disease, will have the same reasons, in the same proportion, for having the symptom or the disease.

It follows that no standardisation of treatment will ever ensure a cure for everybody. The only way to secure a 100% cure-rate is for everybody to understand what is causing their particular problem and then for that particular individual to make the necessary changes to ensure the tissues return to health.

A symptom can be an expression of a wide variety of problems. What we can say is that a symptom is always an expression of a problem.

Simple Conclusions

  1. No symptom occurs as a result of a single influence; there are many pathways resulting in the same symptom.
  2. No symptom or set of symptoms relates to one particular disease pattern.
  3. A symptom is an expression through bodily functions of a problem within the body-mind-spirit of the individual. It is a message that expresses a difficulty within the system.
  4. Any kind of "sensation" is a message. We are not consciously aware of any of our normal internal bodily functions. This only happens when a "change" occurs. This change may indicate a "forgotten" long-standing struggle that has been covered up for a long time, in which case this state had become accepted as "normal", or it may be a straightforward change from normal.
  5. Symptoms occur all the time, without you being a patient and without you receiving medical care.
  6. Listening and responding to symptoms will allow you to maintain a dynamic health balance which will safeguard you against becoming a patient and which will ensure you will not need any medical care. Early symptoms are early warning signs, indicating minor problems. Rectification of minor problems within the system prevents anything major going wrong all together.

Understanding your symptoms is a lot easier than trying to comprehend the disease patterns described in the medical literature. Persistent ignoring of simple symptoms ensures complex combinations of deviations from a healthy status; hence, the complexity of medical pathology and disease definitions.

Understanding your symptoms is as simple as learning that shivering means coldness. Treatment involves either putting on a coat, or sitting in front of the fire. If you wait until you have pneumonia, putting on a coat will not bring back your health.

If your skin is dry, you need more oil. If you are nauseated (feel sick), you need to stop eating, and maybe in the long run review your eating habits. If your tummy is full of gases you are fermenting your food, not digesting it, and you need to review your dietary habits. If you have an overproduction of mucus, resulting in sinus or asthmatic problems, you are too heavy and/or too cold; you need to "evaporate" the excess water.

After all the money and effort this society has invested in "disease-care", it is hard to believe that simplicity is the name of the game in symptom understanding.

Are you up for it, or do you feel safer sticking with the failings of a familiar health care system?

October 2003


Patrick Quanten has been a general practitioner since 1983. The combination of medical insight and extensive studies of Complementary Therapies have opened new perspectives on health care, all of which came to fruition when it blended with Yogic and Ayurvedic principles. Patrick gave up his medical licence in November 2001.
Patrick also holds qualifications in Ayurvedic Medicine, Homeopathy, Reiki, Ozon Therapy and Thai Massage. He is an expert on Ear Candling and he is also well-read in the field of other hard sciences. His life's work involves finding similarities between the Ancient Knowledge and modern Western science.

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