Friday, January 20, 2012

Are you Sick? Or just Unhealthy?

Mike goes to the doctor with a cough.  Is he sick? Or just unhealthy?

The doctor asks how many cigarettes Mike smokes - a pack a day, for 25 years.  Is Mike sick?  Or just unhealthy?

It's not easy to tell if someone is sick, or just unhealthy.  Even in Mike's situation.  If the cough just came on in the past few days, and there are other symptoms - Mike is probably sick.  But if the cough is a nagging cough that has been present and growing, Mike is probably 'just unhealthy'.

Mike's case is a simple one. It can get much more complicated. Let's look again at Alice and Zizi.  You might remember that Alice and Zizi are the same age, similar in many ways, but Alice gets 5 to 7 colds a year, whereas Zizi gets a cold once every 1 or 2 years. Now, Alice develops a cough.  Is she sick? Or just unhealthy? It might be difficult to tell. Alice might have a cough because she ate something that caused her to cough,, or because she is in the final stages of a cold. Presumably, if she is in the final stages of 'another' cold, then she has a cough because she is unhealthy - compared to Zizi - and because she is sick with a cold.

What is unhealthiness? Is there a difference between unhealthiness and sickness.

Merriam-Webster defines unhealthy as "not in good health : sickly, diseased".

People tend to use the words sickness, illness and disease interchangeably. Medical condition is sometimes used for special illnesses like a bone fracture, or bullet puncture - but, medical condition can also be used to name all variations of sickness, illness, disease and medical condition.

In our studies of health and healthiness, it is important to have a clearly defined meaning for unhealthiness.  Health has been defined as: a measure of the state of wellness of a personor community. Health can be seen as a measure, between 0 and 100 percent, that defines the state of wellness.  It is clear than that un-health should be the other percentage, the state of unwellness. 

For example, if your health score is 80 precent, which might be a higher than average score, then your unhealthiness would be 100 - 80, or 20 percent unhealthiness.  

We tend to think of unhealthiness is a condition that is within personal control.  This includes: 
 - poor nutrition 
 - poor cleanliness
 - laziness (insufficient exercise, insufficient mental stress, etc.)

Where is the line between unhealthiness and illness?  When does unhealthiness become a medical condition?  What does it mean when unhealthiness becomes a medical condition? 
This diagram shows a transition from healthiness to unhealthiness to medical condition. The black line represents the point of diagnosable illness. 

If you are simply 'unhealthy' by one of many measurements, you can change.  An unhealthy diet can be changed, improved and eventually become a healthy diet. Of course you can never be 100 percent healthy.  If you are ill, you might be able to increase your level of health - and become not ill - depending on the illness.

So can someone be 'unhealthy'?  In light of this information, it's difficult to define a specific line where unhealthiness begins.  We have no statistics on the health of 'normal people' so we can hardly define those who are 'unhealthy'. But of course it gets more complicated. 

The hierarchy of healthiness has 10 layers of health, from genetics to community health.

In each layer, we have a health score and, by subtracting the health score from 100, we can calculate an unhealthiness score for that area.

In this example, we can see a Community unhealthiness of 18, a Spirit unhealthiness of 22, etc to a Nutrient unhealthiness score of 32 and Genetic unhealthiness of 22. The overall unhealthiness score is 100-78 = 22.

Is healthiness, or unhealthiness is some areas more important than in other areas? Should some illnesses be classified as 'unhealthiness' instead of illness?  Will that help us to determine the best actions?

When we learn to measure healthiness effectively, we will also learn to measure unhealthiness.  And then we will have a better understanding of the choices we can make with regards to both our healthiness and our illnesses.

Illness (sickness)
 - can be diagnosed
 - often the result of external conditions (virus, germs, etc)
 - often a temporary condition (time heals all wounds)
 - may require treatment

 - a result of long term health actions or inactions
 - not a temporary condition - will not change without changes in activities
 - generally not affected by 'treatments' or medicines

We treat illness directly, and we treat unhealthiness indirectly, by healthy actions, for the most effective results.

It is important to ask ourselves, are we sick?  Or just unhealthy?

to your health, tracy
Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: