Wednesday, January 3, 2007

An Epidemic of Diagnoses and Disease Mongering

You have to take a look at this NYT article.

The upshot of the article is that more and more of us are being drawn into the health care system not because of an epidemic of disease, but because of an epidemic of diagnoses. Despite the fact that we are living longer, more of us are being told we are sick in one way or another. It seems that everyone is taking some kind of medication for something these days. There's big money to be made in the medical industry. Let's face it, drug companies are in the business to sell drugs. They are bound to their stockholders to make profits by doing so. They have to sustain those profits. The more drugs they sell, the more money they make. There really is no pure interest to actually cure a disease, because curing a disease would put lots and lots of people out of work. So what is happening is disease mongering pure and simple. This is destroying our overall well being, making us into a bunch of hypochondriacs, and creating dependencies. It is also slowly destroying the economies of countries with socialized medicine like the UK.

Can you imagine how many jobs would be lost if we actually had a cure for diabetes and various cancers? (There are claims that certain cures already exist and are not allowed into the US). Illness is a huge moneymaker, and employs lots of health care workers.

Sadly, we are experiencing the medicalization of everyday life. We all experience physical or emotional feelings that are uncomfortable. Normally we've considered things like insomnia, sadness, twitchy legs and impaired sex drive as part of everyday life, or growing older. Most of those things may pass normally with time. Now, those are given diagnoses as sleep disorder, depression, restless leg syndrome, and sexual dysfunction, and drugs are doled out. But what is most disturbing is the medicalization of childhood. If kids cough after exercising, they have asthma; if they have trouble reading, they are dyslexic; if they are unhappy, they are depressed; and if they alternate between unhappiness and liveliness, they have bipolar disorder. And guess what - there are a host of medications to treat every single thing you can think of. While there may be a few people with severe enough symptoms which warrant help and medication, in most cases medication is immediately doled out to those whose symptoms are mild, intermittent or transient. This is also done without even considering natural remedies, or changes in diet or lifestyle, or even alternate therapies.

The really tragic thing is that people are being diagnosed who really have no symptoms at all; those with so-called "predisease" or those “at risk.” Those folks are diagnosed as a result of some specific tests which detect some "potential problem". So as a result people are put on medication as a precautionary measure.

What is worse, expert panels constantly change the thresholds for diagnosing illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and obesity. Have you noticed how all of the threshold measurements have all fallen in the last few years. For example, the criterion for normal cholesterol has dropped multiple times, so has the level of normal blood sugar. So guess what? With those changes, disease can now be diagnosed in more than half the population, and just as many people are needing to buy medication; expensive medication.

Have you noticed how kids line up in schools all across America for their medications. Forty percent of summer campers are on one or more chronic prescription medications. How is this affecting our next generation? I believe we are killing their livers and ability for their systems to work properly at an early age and at an alarming rate. Consider how we are embarking on mental health screening of all kids in schools, with programs such as TeenScreen, Signs of Suicide, and Wested/Healthy Kids, which funnels them into the psychiatric pipeline.

This epidemic of diagnoses is also leading to an epidemic of treatments. Treatments can be harmful, and the ill effects may even take years to emerge after many people have been exposed. We are seeing article after article about medications that have been put on the market which have caused serious illnesses and even death. It has been shown that Zyprexa causes obesity and diabetes. But guess what? The drug manufacturers have other medications to help you out if you develop other illnesses!
More diagnoses mean more money for drug manufacturers, hospitals, physicians and disease advocacy groups. Researchers, and even the disease-based organization of the National Institutes of Health, secure their stature (and financing) by promoting the detection of “their” disease. Medico-legal concerns also drive the epidemic. While failing to make a diagnosis can result in lawsuits, there are no corresponding penalties for overdiagnosis. Thus, the path of least resistance for clinicians is to diagnose liberally — even when we wonder if doing so really helps our patients.
As a personal anecdote, I was on acid supression medication for 7 long suffering years, for "acid reflux disease". I spent hundreds of dollars on Dr. visits, tests and procedures, and medication. Slowly over time my GI specialist switched medications, gave me higher dosages, and eventually told me I'd have to have surgery. She planted in my mind the fear that if I didn't stay on medication, that I'd develop esophageal cancer. My cholesterol levels started to rise and Drs. said I'd need statin drugs. I didn't want drugs, they gave me headaches and I felt awful. I did lots of reading and research - found a great naturopath - and got off the acid supression medication, cleaned up my diet and viola! I was cured of it all. I've been fine for about 3 years now. I refuse to be subjected to disease mongering, and I hope that you will think about this issue.