October 27, 2022

Symptom and cause

What is the difference between symptom and cause?
What are the underlying causes of a symptom?

We live in a society where it seems to have become normal, when a symptom occurs, to fix it quickly instead of really dealing with the cause and fixing the cause.

We take medications to get rid of headaches, reduce fever, manage depression, overcome listlessness, sleep through the night, and for many other symptoms.

This pattern recurs in all areas of life and in social and interpersonal issues and conflicts, not only in relation to disease patterns of the individual.
For the sake of simplicity, however, I will limit myself to this last area in this article, as it is emblematic of a frequently recurring pattern.

What we do on a small scale, we do on a large scale.

Disclaimer: A doctor should always be consulted if symptoms are serious.

What is a symptom:

Symptom denoted in Medicine and Psychology a sign, Character or (typical) Feature for a disease (disease characteristic) or a Injury.


(a) signs of a disease; manifestation characteristic of a particular disease
b) Signs of [negativen] development; hallmarks


What is a cause:

Cause stands for a causal relationship, see Causality
Causality (from Latin causa, “cause”, and causalis, “causal, causal“) is the Relationship between Cause and Effect. It concerns the sequence of events and States that are related to each other. Accordingly A the cause for the effect B, when B from A is generated.

Wikipedia Cause, Wikipedia Causality

Cause: something (state of affairs, process, event) that causes an appearance, an action or a state of affairs; actual cause, reason.


From symptom to cause

So a symptom is something, how something manifests itself.
How a disease or other previous event manifests itself.
However, the symptom is merely the result of a previous cause.
A preceding cause may in turn be a symptom of an even deeper cause.

Alleviate symptoms without getting to the root cause

So, if we hide the obvious symptom that we perceive as a problem (drugs, “band-aids”, workarounds in software, lawyers, …) we do not fix the original problem, the cause.
However, as long as the underlying problem is not solved, the sometimes annoying symptom is very likely to recur.
If we conceal the symptom efficiently, the cause may continue to rage in the underground, causing worse, and then burst forth in a worse phenomenon or with secondary symptoms due to the concealment measures.


  1. If I have heartburn over and over again and take something for it, I may eventually get stomach ulcers, because the underlying problem for the permanent heartburn has not been resolved.
  2. If I have recurring headaches and regularly take certain pills and resolve the headaches (which are only the symptom), I may eventually get stomach bleeding or kidney disease or whatever the various side effects of the drugs (concealers) are due to the pills.
  3. If I regularly argue with my partner and LEARN great strategies to suppress anger, I just swallow the anger and become a pressure cooker. At some point I explode.
  4. As a programmer, I have often seen “workarounds” built for bugs in software. In one case, that the error still existed in the background and ran crap with the data stored in the database. And the longer the bug worked in the background, the more serious the problem became. Cleaning up the mess afterwards was no joy. Some of the data could no longer be assigned. Because the programmer of the workaround wanted to save time and did not want to sit down for half a day to get to the bottom of the problem, much bigger problems and a huge damage resulted. 10 people had to spend three months cleaning up alongside their regular jobs, as the bug had continued to plague the system unnoticed for 3 years.

Finding the cause can resolve the symptom

Relieving symptoms can reduce suffering and is perfectly fine in my eyes.
But it should not stop us from asking ourselves how this could have happened in the first place.
Because it does not form the solution to the underlying cause.

It’s much the same in software as it is in many other areas of life.
If for a problem the cause is not solved but only the obvious symptom is concealed, the cause will rage on and on in the background and produce more and more new problems (symptoms). And when a pathway is cut off to manifest as a symptom, the cause, much like water, will form a new riverbed over time to reemerge.

Let me tell you here about two experiences I have had with my own body:

Symptom and cause: Permanent fatigue

When I was 18, I suffered from permanent fatigue.
I slept 8-9 hours at night. Drank coffee in the morning and went to school.
In the luggage, a thermos with half a liter of coffee.
By the middle of the second lesson, the jug was empty.
A short time later, I fell asleep in class.
Not once, but regularly.
During the big break, the janitor had made me new coffee.
With that, I got through the third hour and half of the fourth hour before falling asleep again.
Of course, my teachers were particularly enthusiastic about this. 😉
I had been to several doctors during that time, but none of them could tell me what it was.
A year later, in the 11th grade, I decided to end my school career prematurely and move out of home to concentrate fully on the company I had founded two years earlier.
All of a sudden I woke up by myself after 6-7 hours without an alarm clock.
Was full of energy. I was literally bursting with energy.
I was able to work on what I loved throughout the day and late into the night.
Later I realized: school had made me tired. I had been bored from school.

Conclusion of the story

If you recognized yourself in the first part of this story, ask yourself:

  • Does it bore me, with what I always keep falling asleep while having to do it?
  • Or is there something in my life that is robbing me all of my energy and joy in life at the moment, so that I no longer have any joy in the subject where I always fall asleep?

You don’t have to quit your school career or quit your job right away.
What was it about the job that used to give you pleasure?
Can you achieve that again?

Symptom and cause: frequent severe headache

There was a time in my mid-twenties when I regularly struggled with extremely severe headaches. In some cases, even headache pills were no longer effective.
Regularly means: at least 2-3 times a week and then from occur until bedtime.
Again, I visited doctors.
And again, no one could tell me where it came from.
A lot of theories were put forth and I was allowed to try a number of medications.
Each time it was “this will help them”.
In the end, none of them really helped.
The headaches kept coming.
One day I noticed a pattern.
I drank a lot of cola at that time.
3 liters of cola (nearly a gallon) a day (only cola, no water) were easily the daily program.
I noticed that on days when I hadn’t already drunk a certain amount of Coke by a certain time of day, I would get headaches.
The less Coke I drank by that time, the worse the headache was.
And once the headaches started, I could take as many headache pills or drink as much Coke as I wanted – they wouldn’t go away. Until I went to sleep and slept at least 3 hours.
This pattern made me wonder.
Since I had made the school experience with the permanent fatigue, I decided one day to stop Coke completely.
It was cold turkey.
Migraine (nothing helped, extremely sensitive to light, sound and vibration), fever, chills, etc.
The withdrawal lasted 3 days.
Since then, I have been drinking water almost exclusively.
And the headache? Gone since day 4.
Since that day, to this day, I have had headaches just 1-2 times a year.

Conclusion of the story

Headaches can have many triggers.
Not just things we drink or eat.
In my case, it was Coke.
I experienced at some point again that my coffee consumption (being the programmer that I was) was significantly too high. Then I noticed the phenomenon again and also curbed my coffee consumption and poof, the symptoms were gone again.

It doesn’t have to be what we drink.
There may be other issues that make this happen.
Everyday topics. Are we acting contrary to our intuition? Are we not aware of our roles in our lives? What gives us the proverbial headache?

Try to find the pattern or ask the appropriate questions.
Is there a specific moment when the symptom keeps coming back?

Symptoms as indicator

Physical and emotional symptoms are an indicator.

Frequent heartburn?
What’s pissing me off?
Am I just longer lasting pissed off?
What puts me under stress?

Nose full or sinuses closed?
What am I literally sick of?

Diarrhea or digestive problems?
Is there an event in my life right now that I am having a hard time digesting?

Is there anything I don’t want to hear anymore?
Am I acting against my intuition right now?

Final conclusion

There are many symptoms that we can get to the bottom of.
I have experienced often enough that when I listen to the signals / indicators of my body, explore and resolve the underlying cause, that the symptoms then abruptly dissolve on their own.

Let us never confuse the symptom with the cause.

The above list is only exemplary and not even remotely complete.
In my next articles, I will go into more detail about different symptoms and write down possible questions to get to the root cause. I am happy to receive feedback and suggestions if the articles are incomplete in your eyes.

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