The Risk vs. Reward of Modern Medicine

The miracles of modern medicine cannot be overstated. With that said, these incredible developments in health science seem to always come with a price. Whether it’s the way in which we treat common colds to our approach to fighting cancer, the complete eradication of illness remains mostly elusive. The medicine and procedures we rely on today to save lives are works in progress, ones which oftentimes include tradeoffs and potential consequences in exchange of relief from injury and disease.

Consider the following examples of the risk versus rewards of modern medicine:

Possible side effects

If you live in the United States, you’re familiar with the prescription medicine commercials on television where the narrator speed reads through a long list of potential side effects. Even over-the-counter medications can cause adverse reactions if taken improperly or the user suffers from a preexisting condition. While possible side effects of popular medicine sound scary, those suffering from the illnesses and disorders these drugs are designed to treat may decide the reward is worth the risk.

Diminishing returns

Modern medicine is experiencing more and more instances where once effective drugs lose their potency. One way this occurs is when a patient’s body builds a tolerance to a certain medication. Another example is the way in which antibiotics are less effective than they were in the past. This is due to bacteria developing resistance to the drug.

Controlled trauma

Certain medical procedures can sound more dangerous than the problems they’re meant to solve, depending on how you view them. For instance, surgery is the process of intentionally cutting somebody open – hurting them – in order to help them and in many circumstances save their life. Chemotherapy is another example of where the treatment is horrific despite its potential to keep someone from dying.

The dose makes the poison

This age-old adage of toxicology sums up the nature of most medicine. A certain amount of something will help you feel better, while another amount could land you in critical condition. The same rule of thumb applies to food and just about anything else humans can consume. No matter how harmless a given consumable may be in its typical quantity, there exists a quantity which has the potential to cause serious damage to the human body.

Treating vs. curing

Ever notice how most medicines and procedures are described as “treating” a problem but never “curing” it? That’s because it’s pretty hard to cure disease, whereas managing symptoms is within the grasp of modern medicine. That’s not to say we haven’t cured disease – smallpox, polio, and malaria are considered virtually eradicated – it’s just that we knocked out all the “easy” ones in the 20th century and haven’t updated the list in a while.

There’s no denying the incredible breakthroughs of modern medicine over the last 50 years. However, it’s safe to say humans still have a long way to go in terms of eradicating the diseases and ailments that plague our species. If the past is prologue, you can count on our ability to keep finding ways to overcome illness, all the while trying to balance our treatments with nature.

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