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Treating Disease: Techniques & Principles

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

In this lesson, we're going to delve into the various techniques utilized for the treatment of some common diseases. We'll also look at the principles behind why the different types of techniques are used.

Diseases

It seems that every time we turn around there's another disease popping up out of nowhere. It almost makes you wonder how anyone can stay or get healthy for any length of time. All you have to do is watch TV for about 30 minutes and you'll see at least one commercial describing a disease that has a new treatment. Some of these diseases include heart disease, kidney disease, cancer and arthritis.

Scientists and doctors have to work to keep up with finding new ways to treat each and every disease that makes its way into our bodies. Some of these treatments are successful to the point of curing us, while others are only successful to the point of prolonging our lives while we endure the disease. Drugs, surgeries, procedures and vaccines are the main ways in which medical doctors and scientists suggest treating almost any and all diseases.

Drugs

Drugs have been used for hundreds of years as a means of treating various diseases. Some drugs, like antibiotics, are designed with the intention of curing a disease. They work to cure bacterial diseases, such as ear infections and Staph infections of the skin. Other drugs are designed with the purpose of treating the symptoms of a disease. These are useful in terminal diseases and ones without a cure.

For example, there are several diseases that fall under the umbrella of heart disease, such as congestive heart failure, heart attack, cardiomyopathy and stroke. There's not a cure for any of these diseases, so healthcare workers treat these diseases by treating the symptoms to make them have less of an impact on the patient's quality and quantity of life. Drugs used for these diseases may include water pills, blood pressure medications and anti-inflammatory medications.

Surgeries

Since there are several diseases for which there's not a cure, the principle treatment sometimes becomes surgically removing whatever is diseased. Surgeries may remove all or part of a diseased organ in the body or in diseased tissues. For instance, a mastectomy may remove all or a portion of a cancerous breast, and a nephrectomy is a surgery to remove a diseased kidney.

For some diseases, the cure is to go in and surgically correct the diseased tissue. This is seen very frequently with heart disease. Since a heart attack is caused by a blockage in one or more arteries going to the heart, surgeons may opt to navigate the arteries around the blockage through a surgery known as a cardiac bypass.

Procedures

Some patients go through a procedure as opposed to a surgery as a part of their treatment. There are many procedures that healthcare workers use to treat a wide variety of diseases in our bodies. In fact, kidney, heart, lung and skin diseases, as well as almost every type of cancer, are treated using procedures. These procedures may include everything from radiation treatments for cancers to radiofrequency ablation, a procedure where tissue is burned on the heart, to bone marrow transplants for leukemia.

Other examples of procedures include the two common treatments performed on people that have certain kidney diseases: dialysis and lithotripsy. Dialysis is a procedure that uses an artificial kidney to filter the blood. Normally, our kidneys function to filter the blood of wastes and balance the amount of water and electrolytes in the body. Diseased and/or failing kidneys allow wastes to build up in the bloodstream, and water is retained in the body when it shouldn't be. Kidney stones, on the other hand, are often treated with a procedure called lithotripsy, which uses ultrasound waves to break up the kidney stones into small, passable pieces.

Vaccines

Although procedures are useful, scientists and doctors have realized that sometimes the best treatment for a disease is to use a vaccine. The main principle behind vaccines is that they enable the immune system to respond to a disease when it normally wouldn't be able to so. This works in two ways.

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