Disease Mongering

By Robert Braile, D.C.

Each month, I review hundreds of articles on health and chiropractic that appear in the general media. From these we select the ones that we feel can best be reported on for our patient newsletter. What has become more abundantly clear is that there appears to be more new disease names for conditions that were previously common occurrences. In fact, it appears that corporate medicine has begun a deliberate campaign to create name conditions in order to sell their products.

Probably the most interesting instance of this disease mongering is a new one I’ve seen called “SDD” or “Social Anxiety Disorder.” Notice the acronym is simply “SAD”. On the website for the drug Effexor which claims to treat this situation, they state that symptoms of social anxiety disorder may include; “avoiding social situations, intense self-consciousness in social settings, physical symptoms such as blushing, sweating, trembling, fast heartbeat, and nausea, and unreasonable fear of embarrassment”. Now maybe it’s just me, but in my earlier days when I was dating, most of these symptoms could just as easily be treated by beer!

Another interesting example is “Restless Legs Syndrome”. This is described as, “An urge to move the legs due to an unpleasant feeling in the legs.” Well EXCUSE ME… but if I have an unpleasant feeling in my legs I’m going to move them! Another is “Male Pattern Baldness”. Hey I take offence to this one. In fact, I’m so proud of my head, I got rid of the rest of that junk called hair. I take it as a sign of a strong male to be losing hair. And, since I genetically have no choice, I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

Other marketing examples of disease mongering include, “Female Sexual Dysfunction” (obviously created by a man), “Erectile Dysfunction” (I wonder if this was created by a woman), “Irritable Bowl Syndrome”. How about Road Rage Disorder, now called “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” (IED). So if you flip the bird while driving, there is a medication just waiting for you.

This new wave of disease mongering has been pushed by the pharmaceutical industry under the guise of “disease-awareness”. Even normal processes such as menopause are being classified as a disease and now require medications.

The problem has become so profound that a group of scientists have just recently held the Inaugural Conference on Disease-Mongering, in Australia this past April. The proceedings can be seen on the website www.diseasemongering.org.

In some cases, disease mongering involves taking real, but obscure conditions, and inflating them to the point where most of the population believes they suffer from this disorder. For some strange and unexplainable reason, much of the population feels more at ease if the symptoms they have, or perceive to have, have a name disorder attached to them. It makes it neater, and easier to mentally handle. “I’ve got XYZ disorder, and thank goodness there is a new drug xyz-ease just for me”.

For the most part the chiropractic profession has not taking this approach. We do not have the marketing resources available to us to create a new condition that only we can treat. We do have subluxation, but this was our foundation and not a marketing ploy. Besides the purist understanding of subluxation does not lend itself to marketing one named condition related to subluxation as subluxations has a system wide effect.

The only slight excursion into disease mongering that the chiropractic profession has endeavored was the old “11 danger signals” campaigns. In years past I could open just about any phone book, look up chiropractors, and see several ads for danger signals. I guess this marketing was designed to get people who would say, “Wow I’ve got that, I’d better call!”

The real impact in our offices is that more people are coming in convinced that they have a condition that was created in a marketing office. They are almost proud that they now know what their problem is. The hard part for us is that this thinking is so diametrically opposed to health and wellness, that massive de-programming is needed. In many cases, attempts to de-bunk these mongering generated fantasies can set up an adversarial position between the doctor and patient, where the patient feels the doctors is trying to make them wrong or make them feel stupid.

In the case of disease mongering, the best chiropractic approach is to remain within our principles. The concept of better function through removal of subluxation does not challenge the misconceptions of disease mongering, but they do render them irrelevant. If a person understands that they can achieve wellness and health, they no longer have to worry about fighting marketing created diseases.