Sunday, October 26

Everyone's a hypochondriac nowadays

Someone sneezes near me. Uh oh! Does she have a cold? Is it the flu? No...maybe its just the allergies.

Hmm....Maybe it's serious. Did she travel abroad this past month? Let me get away and take a sip of dayquil anyway!

Thoughts like these run through my head whenever someone displays symptoms. I'm a weird chap anyway. My close friends will tell you I'm always thinking up strange scenarios in my head, conjuring up situations, repeating phrases in my head, repeating dialogues and conversations...That's why I murmur so much! But assuming that perhaps someone has some strange ailment, or something contagious around me is something i feel, I'm not alone in thinking.

Diseases are getting harder to tackle, and outbursts are getting more sporadic in random regions of the world. The world itself, is getting smaller. There are businessmen and Paris Hilton types that could be seen on 3 different continents on the same day. Who knows what they are carrying? I believe that we, as humans, are becoming a lot more panic-stricken when it comes to symptoms and health related issues. Even the smallest of symptoms are dealt with in the most therapeutically tough way. We've overloaded our bodies with antibiotics, so much so, that we're born allergic to them. I, for one, was born allergic to penicillin.

A not so recent NYTimes article about the "Epidemic of Diagnoses" caught my eye last year and I've been meaning to highlight it on this blog. The writes bring another angle to this issue by claiming its the fault of the medical community for over-diagnosing us. We have medicines for the oddest of 'illnesses' now. I remember back home, when one couldn't sleep, you'd count sheep or have a glass of milk. Nowadays, you can take a bunch of drugs promising you 8 hours of distraction free sleep. I watch TV late at night sometimes, and I see commercials for the strangest of ailments, restless leg syndrome, unhappiness, poor sex name a few. Call me insensitive, but my cure for these would be to get better shoes, adopt a puppy and find a girlfriend, respectively. According to the article there are 2 main reasons for this:

Two developments accelerate this process. First, advanced technology allows doctors to look really hard for things to be wrong. We can detect trace molecules in the blood. We can direct fiber-optic devices into every orifice. And CT scans, ultrasounds, M.R.I. and PET scans let doctors define subtle structural defects deep inside the body. These technologies make it possible to give a diagnosis to just about everybody: arthritis in people without joint pain, stomach damage in people without heartburn and prostate cancer in over a million people who, but for testing, would have lived as long without being a cancer patient.

Second, the rules are changing. Expert panels constantly expand what constitutes disease: thresholds for diagnosing diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and obesity have all fallen in the last few years. The criterion for normal cholesterol has dropped multiple times. With these changes, disease can now be diagnosed in more than half the population.

I think this needs to change. We are pumping our bodies full of drugs, for which we're not 100% certain what the side effects are or what the future implications could be. The writers of the NYTimes article recommends the following... I know most of my peers are usually put of with scientific and health related subjects that I write about, but I strongly encourage us to think about this:
As more of us are being told we are sick, fewer of us are being told we are well. People need to think hard about the benefits and risks of increased diagnosis: the fundamental question they face is whether or not to become a patient. And doctors need to remember the value of reassuring people that they are not sick. Perhaps someone should start monitoring a new health metric: the proportion of the population not requiring medical care. And the National Institutes of Health could propose a new goal for medical researchers: reduce the need for medical services, not increase it.

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