How to turn a condition into a disease by “selling sickness”

“Selling sickness” means that the line between healthy and sick becomes blurred – and demand for medical treatment increases. If you’re a drug company, it’s a swell way to get consumers to demand treatment that may or may not even be necessary. So says a Dutch study that investigated industry-funded information campaigns around common conditions like restless legs syndrome, overactive bladder and heartburn.

These “ask your doctor” campaigns focused on symptom advertising or disease mongering.

Dutch law, as in Canada (but not, significantly, in only two countries: the U.S. and New Zealand) prohibits “Direct To Consumer” public advertising of prescription drugs. You might well wonder why these two countries are the only ones on earth who still permit this marketing practice. Continue reading

Coffee reduces your stroke risk – or does it?

Here we go again, says health journalism watchdog Gary Schwitzer of Health News Review, citing headlines that blare claims like “Coffee may reduce stroke risk!”

These media headlines introduced findings from a new study in which women who drank more than a cup of coffee a day had a 22% to 25% lower risk of stroke than those who drank less, according to Swedish researchers.

Their research was published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in North America, behind heart disease and cancer.

But Gary Schwitzer explains that although this was a big study (over 34,000 women ages 49-83, followed for an average of 10 years), it was only an observational study that can’t prove cause and effect. Continue reading

Are you being “over-diagnosed”?

According to a trio of widely published American researchers, many of us are “over-diagnosed” by being labelled with a medical condition that will never cause us any symptoms or premature death. We are, they tell us, mistakenly swallowing the popular conviction that early detection of everything is always for the best.

Their book, Over-diagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health, claims that over-diagnosis is in fact one of medicine’s biggest problems, causing millions of people to become patients unnecessarily, producing untold harm, and wasting vast amounts of resources in the name of disease mongering. Continue reading