Is there a word that means the equivalent (or close to) the expression "treat the problem rather than the symptom" ?

If not, is there a concise way to say this?

For example, in discussing healthcare costs I might advocate that we treat the problem (lack of exercise) rather than treating the symptoms of the problem (obesity). I need to explain this clearly and concisely in a bullet point....

  • how about "frontal aproach" or "frontal attack"? – user19148 Aug 23 '13 at 19:12
  • Holistic as opposed to symptomatic? – Autoresponder Aug 24 '13 at 5:22

Root cause refers to the fundamental reason for the occurrence of a problem.

As Wikipedia describes it: A root cause is an initiating cause of a causal chain which leads to an outcome or effect of interest.

Another way of saying this, in more formal terms is ultimate cause, which is essentially the same as root cause. The complement of ultimate cause is proximate cause, (sometimes used as a legal expression) which is the cause closest to the problem. For example: "The proximate cause of his diabetes is that he is overweight. The ultimate cause is that he does not eat a balanced diet."

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In a medical register, the difference would be between "curative" (problem oriented) work and "palliative" (symptom oriented) work.

E.g.: "The social reforms leading to the state administration of old-age pensions were a palliative effort to prevent the rise of socialism." and "The reorganization of the company was meant as curative; Apple would be in the tank, otherwise."

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  • I think that this answer addresses the question more satisfactorily than any of the older answers. Well done. – Sven Yargs Sep 25 '14 at 17:48

You could say you're focusing on the "key issue" to indicate that the main source of the problem is what you are addressing.

Or you could say your solution involves going for "the source" of the problem.

You could also say you're 'getting to the heart of the matter", which is generally understood to be the core of an issue.

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You can use get to the root of the problem.

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In the medical world, this is referred to as symptomatic treatment.

Symptomatic treatment is any medical therapy of a disease that only affects its symptoms, not its cause, i.e., its etiology. It is usually aimed at reducing the signs and symptoms for the comfort and well-being of the patient, but it also may be useful in reducing organic consequences and sequelae of these signs and symptoms of the disease.

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“Avoid palliative solutions, and treat etiologically.”

It may sound too fancy for some, but I do believe that that's the perfect and concise expression that summarizes the whole message, including its details. “Tackle root causes” is a common expression, but it does not also call for dropping the “painkillers”, does not intelligently deter from going for palliative solutions; instead, the expression above invites the reader or listener to consider what a painkiller really is and what it does, then also concisely tells them that sometimes you cannot just “tackle” a root cause; you may have to research and study it, practice etiology.

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Consider the expression grasp/tackle the evil by the root."

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You would have 'ironed something out' or have 'cracked' it by 'getting to the bottom of the problem'.

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  • 2
    This answer focuses more on phrases for general solving of a problem, rather than getting to the cause of the problem and ignoring signs that show it. "Ironed Out" in particular implies only solving the problem, not necessarily getting to the core issues that create it. (Ironing Out issues, while it sounds quite final, implies only resolving the issue, not getting to the core cause for them). – Zibbobz Aug 23 '13 at 19:00
  • Cambridge dictionary defines ironing something out as removing problems or finding solutions – user49727 Aug 23 '13 at 19:11
  • Free dictionary defines the phrase As solving all problems that are still left. – user49727 Aug 23 '13 at 19:12
  • Yes, but it does not mean finding the root cause or solving the core problem. What I'm saying is it's too general. One could 'iron out' problems without ever solving the core problem. Edit: The second definiton shared, however, does suggest solving the core problem as well. I still feel like it is too general though. The expression "treat the problem, not the symptoms" means focusing only on the core problem. – Zibbobz Aug 23 '13 at 19:14
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    I'm still not entirely convinced the idiom is appropriate. I have never seen or heard it used in a way that implies a focused resolution of the main problem. – Zibbobz Aug 23 '13 at 20:44

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