Here’s A Suggestion

Don’t Succumb To It’s Power

Do you worry about your health? You may be right to be concerned and aware.  But are you right to worry?
Megan McArdle points us to this article by Melinda Beck, that intimates you should not even read the warning labels on medications.  The power of suggestion could make that practice a bad thing for your health.

Is it a good idea to read about all the possible side effects of medications you’re taking?

Not if you have difficulty concentrating, headaches, fatigue, dry skin, irritability, a big project due, or an active imagination.

Research has shown that expecting to feel ill can bring illness on in some instances, particularly when stress is involved. The technical term is the “nocebo effect,” and it’s placebo’s evil twin. “It’s not a psychiatric disorder — it’s the way the mind works,” says Arthur Barsky, director of Psychiatric Research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“Is this a small effect?” you may legitimately ask.  “No!”, comes back the reply.

Nocebos can even be fatal. In one classic example, women in the multi-decade Framingham Heart study who thought they were at risk for heart attacks were 3.7 times as likely to die of coronary conditions as women who didn’t have such fears — regardless of whether they smoked or had other risk factors.

It’s not something that only affects women, either.   It affects men, too.

In a study last year at the University of Turin, Italy, men taking finesteride for enlarged prostates who were informed that it could cause erectile dysfunction and decreased libido were three times as likely to experience such side effects as men who weren’t told.

We have several nostrums, all told to me by my sainted grandmother (or mother, or someone), that turn out to be true after all.

  • You have nothing to fear but fear itself. – F. D. Roosevelt
  • Fear is the mindkiller – Frank Herbert
  • A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing – Unknown

Interesting, to say the least.  And apparently it’s not an unknown or new phenomenon.  Here’s a testimonial from Jan. 2003.

I was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a brain tumour and macular degeneration.

“All three at once?” I hear you ask.”That’s pretty bad luck,” you must be thinking (along with “What is macular degeneration anyway?”).

I suppose it would be more precise to say that I diagnosed myself with these diseases. It would also, perhaps, be more accurate to say that I don’t actually have any of them, but that, for a short period of time, I thought that I did. I became swept up in the mania of hypochondria, you see, and my insanity was aided by what I have now decided is the evil of all evils: the Internet.

Before I knew it, I had been sucked into the dark world of (I think it was) diseases.com.

Thanks to Megan McArdle for the original link.

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2 Comments on “Here’s A Suggestion”

  1. Becky Says:

    My doctor hates it when I mention the word internet. Maybe if I said “book” he’d figure it took me longer than 30 seconds to come up with the possible diagnosis 🙂

    (my mom has macular degeneration, so I’m up on that topic)

  2. joe Says:

    My dad has macular degeneration too, Becky, and my optometrist tells me that there is “an inherited component” to it. So yes, I take an anti-oxidant daily to ward off the (what I hope isn’t) inevitable. Sigh. I also enjoyed roller coasters, fun-houses, and anything else designed to scare me silly when I was younger. People just seem to go after that scare-thing.

    And yeah – I’ve heard that 82.49% of all the stats. you see on the internet are made up on the spot. ;> Perhaps your doctor has seen that one too!


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