self check

By Dale Petersen MD – Building  Health  –

One of the most important skills required to maintain one’s health is the ability to listen to what one’s body is saying.  The body expresses itself through what are called symptoms.  A symptom might be a headache, a sore throat, a fever, unusual or excessive fatigue, or any number of other abnormal sensations.  Symptoms are not diseases in themselves; they are warning signs that a disease is present or is developing.

I can illustrate the importance of looking for the causes of symptoms in this way:  Suppose that I’m driving my car and I’m eighty miles from my destination when I glance down and see a red light that says oil on my dashboard.  The oil light is a warning that the oil level is dangerously low.  Having seen the warning light I have several options.  I can simply keep on driving.  The light will remain lit, however, and that will cause me to feel anxious or worried.  I can pull over and add a quart of oil if I have one available.  If not, I can call roadside assistance and have them bring some oil or send a truck to tow my vehicle to a service center.  There is a more direct option, however.  I can take out a pair of pliers, identify the wire that’s leading to the light, and clip it.  That will allow me to restart the engine and drive to my destination without being bothered by that annoying red light. 

You’re probably thinking that my solution is ridiculous and that I’ll probably burn up my engine before I finish my trip.  You’re correct of course, but that’s exactly what people do when they take a medication to relieve a symptom without identifying and correcting its underlying cause. 

Symptoms are the body’s warning lights, its smoke detector, and its burglar alarm. When they are viewed as such the cause of the distress signal can almost always be uncovered and corrected. When symptoms are treated as diseases and turned off, disease typically progresses unabated with serious consequences, just like an automobile engine that’s low on oil.

A headache, for example, may be a signal that the head and spine are out of alignment.  It may indicate that dehydration is present, that toxic substances are present in the body, or any of a number of other triggers are present.  Whatever the cause, simply taking a pain reliever to mask the headache pain will allow whatever triggered the pain to progress in severity and potentially cause more serious health challenges in the future.

One of the most common ways people are clipping the wire today is by taking acid blocking medications to ease heartburn.  Heartburn is a symptom, not a disease even though the pharmaceutical industry has designated it as such by labeling it GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).  Reflux is a sign that digestion is not proceeding as it should.  Blocking the body’s ability to produce stomach acid worsens rather than improves digestion.  Reflux still occurs, but because no acid is present the burning that would normally alert a person is no longer present. 

I encourage you to listen to your body carefully.  When a symptom occurs, find someone who is willing to work with you to identify the reason that it is present rather than someone who will simply prescribe a drug to relieve the symptom.  Identifying and correcting the cause or causes of symptoms when they occur is the only way to restore proper body functioning and achieve lasting health.    

Dale Petersen MD

By Dale Peterson, MD- Building Health

Dr. Dale Peterson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Medicine. He completed his residency in FamilyMedicine at the University of Oklahoma. He is a past president of the Oklahoma Academy of  Family Physicians. He had a full-time family practice in Edmond, Oklahoma, for over 20 years and was a Chief of Staff of the Edmond Hospital. He was active in teachingfor many years as a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine through the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center.

Dr. Peterson left his full-time family practice in 1999 to consult with individuals who are seeking ways to restore and maintain their health through improved nutrition and other lifestyle changes. He founded the Wellness Clubs of America to give people access to credible information on supporting and maintaining their health.  His monthly wellness letter, Health by Design, and his Health by Design E-Newsletter provide helpful information to individuals interested in preventing and conquering health challenges.  He is the author of Building Health by Design:  Adding Life to Your Years and Years to Your Life .

Dr. Peterson speaks regularly on subjects related to health and nutrition. He hosted a weekly radio program,Your Health Matters, on KTOK in Oklahoma City for five years. For the past nine years he has addressed questions from across the nation on his Your Health Matters weekly teleconference.He offers a free video LifeXtension course at

Latest posts by Dale Petersen MD (see all) Petersen MDBuilding Health Medical ColumnHealthBy Dale Petersen MD - Building  Health  - One of the most important skills required to maintain one's health is the ability to listen to what one's body is saying.  The body expresses itself through what are called symptoms.  A symptom might be a headache,...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids