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Therapy (Latin therapīa; Greek: θεραπεία) literally means "curing, healing" and is the attempted remediation of a health problem, usually following a diagnosis. In the medical field, it is synonymous with the word "treatment". Among psychologists, the term may refer specifically to psychotherapy or "speech therapy".
Preventive therapy or prophylactic therapy is a treatment that is intended to prevent a medical condition from occurring. For example, many vaccines prevent infectious diseases. An abortive therapy is a treatment that is intended to stop a medical condition from progressing any further. A medication taken at the earliest signs of a disease, such as at the very symptoms of a migraine headache, is an abortive therapy.
In addition to (or in place of) the intended therapeutic effect of a treatment, a therapist may cause undesired (adverse) effects as well. When an adverse effect is weaker than the therapeutic effect, one commonly speaks of a "side effect".
An adverse effect may result from an unsuitable or incorrect dosage or procedure (which could be due to medical error). Some adverse effects occur only when starting, increasing or discontinuing a treatment. Using a drug or other medical intervention which is contraindicated may increase the risk of adverse effects. Patients sometimes quit a therapy because of its adverse effects. The severity of adverse effects ranges from nausea to death. Common adverse effects include alteration in body weight, change in enzyme levels, loss of function, or pathological change detected at the microscopic, macroscopic or physiological level.
Adverse effects may cause a reversible or irreversible change, including an increase or decrease in the susceptibility of the individual to other chemicals, foods, or procedures (e.g. drug interaction).
A prevention or preventive measure is a way to avoid an injury, sickness, or disease in the first place, and generally it will not help someone who is already ill (though there are exceptions). For instance, many babies in developed countries are given a polio vaccination soon after they are born, which prevents them from contracting polio. But the vaccination does not work on patients who already have polio. A treatment or cure is applied after a medical problem has already started.
A treatment treats a problem, and may lead to its cure, but treatments often ameliorate a problem only for as long as the treatment is continued, especially in chronic diseases. For example, there is no cure for AIDS, but treatments are available to slow down the harm done by HIV and delay the fatality of the disease. Treatments don't always work. For example, chemotherapy is a treatment for some types of cancer. In some cases, chemotherapy may cause a cure, but not in all cases for all cancers. When nothing can be done to stop or improve a medical condition, beyond efforts to make the patient more comfortable, the condition is said to be untreatable. Some untreatable conditions naturally resolve on their own; others do not.
Cures are a subset of treatments that reverse illnesses completely or end medical problems permanently. Many diseases that cannot be cured are still treatable.
Treatments can be classified according to the method of treatment:
Treatment decisions often follow formal or informal algorithmic guidelines. A first-line therapy (sometimes called induction therapy or primary therapy) is usually recommended on the basis of clinical evidence for its efficacy in the population at large. If a first-line therapy either fails to resolve the issue or produces intolerable side effects, additional agents (second-line therapies) may be substituted or added to the treatment regimen.
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