What Is Symptomatic Treatment?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden

Symptomatic treatment is a therapeutic method aimed at countering the specific symptoms of a given issue, whether or not therapy is also aimed at confronting the underlying cause of the symptoms. This form of treatment may be used when the underlying problem is untreatable or when treating it takes a great deal of time and does not diminish the pain or discomfort caused by the symptoms. Symptomatic treatment may also be used when the root cause of the symptoms is unknown and cannot, therefore, be dealt with directly. This is common for psychological disorders which seldom have well-defined and well-understood causes that can be addressed directly. Treatment methods aimed at symptoms rather than root causes are useful for relieving pain and discomfort but are seldom able to address the core problems.

Medical professionals often use symptomatic treatment methods for conditions that cause patients discomfort or pain. In some cases, symptomatic treatment is administered alongside treatments intended to deal with the root cause of a given condition. In other cases, as when the causes of the symptoms are not known, symptom-based treatment is the only option for reducing a patient's pain and discomfort. In many cases, unless the problem somehow resolves itself, such treatment must continue indefinitely, as it often does not affect the underlying causes of the problem in any way.

Psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals often make use of symptomatic treatments because of the difficulty of identifying the root causes of many psychological disorders. An individual with depression symptoms, for instance, may be treated with medication even when some circumstance of his life is actually responsible for his depression. Such treatment might make the patient feel better, but it cannot actually make the underlying problems go away. As such, if the patient stops using the medication, it is likely that the condition will return if the circumstances of his life have not changed.

In some cases, the term "symptomatic treatment" is used to describe various methods of handling societal problems. Some welfare programs, for instance, may be designed to give more money or jobs to people in certain socioeconomic groups in order to handle such "symptoms" as unemployment and poor education. This is considered by some to be a "symptomatic treatment" because many such issues are believed to be "symptoms" of an underlying social and economic inequality built into a given social system. The symptomatic treatment may help some people when it is administered, but it does little in terms of providing a long-term solution.

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