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Category: Society

Is Restless Leg Syndrome Bullshit?

rls.jpg This past week’s Sunday “Post Secrets” had a postcard that said, “I don’t care what you said, I still think RLS IS BULLSHIT” sent on a postcard made from a Mirapex (prescription drug for restless leg syndrome or RLS) ad. This generated a flurry of comments in the Post Secret discussion forum, where people talked about experiencing RLS or witnessing a loved one who suffers from RLS.

Hence is the dilemma for direct to consumer advertising by drug companies.

On the one hand, there is a grain of truth in the ethics of drug companies to mass market to consumers a condition that affects a very small percentage of the population. One wonders why a drug company would choose huge media outlets like magazines and television to talk about a drug for a condition a very small percentage of the population suffers from. Would this create false diagnoses? Foster hypochondrias in those who do not actually suffer from the condition, but have become suggestive to think they do based on what little they know about the condition in a 30 second TV commercial?

On the other hand, those who do suffer from the rare condition can feel a sense of relief that they were not alone or “crazy”, that the condition is indeed a medical one requiring medical intervention, and that there is medical help. Even if drug companies try to educate doctors on a rare condition, doctors may not always have time to do a detailed workup and uncover the condition unless the patient proactively offers this information.

As cynical as I am of DTC advertising by drug companies, I still choose having the information out there than not having the information available at all.

Would You Sell Your DNA?

Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei posted an interesting poll on her blog, Eye on DNA: “Would you sell your DNA?” (right column) based on a company that is literally offering people $5000 for their DNA.

991946729206578.gif As of today, 67 votes were tabulated and it appears that people tend to be a bit possessive of their own DNA, as 34% voted “No way, my DNA is mine and mine alone.” The next group at 24% said that they would sell it for the right price, followed by the altruistic bunch at 18% who said they would freely give away their DNA. 12% additional percent who are willing to give away their DNA has a more practical approach: “DNA is easy to synthesize anyway”.

I’d like to meet the person who is willing to trade her DNA for breast implants. I’m assuming that the person is a “she”, but with cosmetic surgery on the rise for men, you never know if a man would happily opt for a surgically sculpted 6-pack in exchange for his double helices.

Giving my DNA away freely gives me pause. On a practical level, I see freely distributing your DNA as almost the same as publicly posting your social security number, driver’s license, phone number(s), and home address. You never know who ends up with this information. We’re so worried about identity theft these days, who knows what can be done with our biological identities if these fall into the wrong hands?

I voted to sell it for the “right” price, and no, I haven’t considered how much “right” would be. But it won’t be just for $5000, although the company does state, “If your sample is used to generate a replacement organ that we sell, you will also receive a portion of the proceeds.” I’d want to see clauses and contingencies that ensure residual royalties should my DNA miraculously contains an answer to some interesting scientific question (aside from my being a strange specimen to begin with, but that’s beyond this blog!) beyond the current scope of “use”. I don’t have a fierce personal attachment to my DNA and I’d gladly consider a win-win, mutually beneficial arrangement. Having a business transaction ensures that there will be a formal paper trail associated with the process, and safeguards preferably would be in place to prevent fraud and abuse.

So would you sell your DNA?

Oh, How do I love Thee? What – Speak Up, Honey!

The FDA has just approved changes to product labeling for popular “lifestyle” drugs Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra. These drugs are meant to treat erectile dysfunction or ED, and my calling them “lifestyle” drugs will trigger the ire of pharma companies, but let’s face it, these types of drugs don’t become blockbuster for no reason.

If you didn’t know, Viagra was born of research on a compound originally intended to treat heart disease. Who knew that the interesting side effect of the compound would create such a media sensation? (not to mention all the lame jokes and commercials accompanying these medications)

The FDA began investigating the potential link between Viagra and similar drugs with hearing loss after reading a case report published in April 2007 in the Journal of Laryngology & Otology. The agency found 29 post-marketing reports of sudden hearing loss in one ear for patients taking Viagra and similar compounds. Now, the FDA wants the drug makers to warn consumers taking ED drugs about the risk of sudden hearing loss after “a very small number of patients” reported sudden hearing loss, sometimes with ringing in the ears and dizziness. Patients who experience sudden hearing loss are advised to stop taking the drug immediately and get medical help.

Given the number of prescriptions that have been dispensed for Viagra and family, 29 reports of sudden hearing loss really isn’t a “big” number. However, let’s take this in the context of the current media attention on children’s cough medication calling to be banned because of less than 60 total deaths over the span of more than 35 years (1969-2006). Even if infant deaths due to cough mixture were attributed to inappropriate dosing, 29 drug-related adverse events of anything these days may be too many to be ignored.

Let Me Count the Ways to a Heart Attack

gif_heart.gif I don’t know what’s going on, but October has been a productive month for studies that show different ways to get heart attacks. For example, in addition to the “traditional way” of getting a heart attack, you can also get a heart attack by:

Undergoing prostate cancer therapy (consumer news / original research), speculated to be due to androgen deprivation – a key strategy in treating androgen (hormone) dependent prostate cancer.

100364003171311.gif Being in a bad relationship (consumer news / original research), which made a lot of sense because relationships that cause you to engage in vein-bulging screaming matches probably require your heart to work in overdrive to supply all that blood coloring your face red and engorging your vessels.

gif_people-198.gif Working in a stressful job (consumer news / original research). Here’s what I don’t get: WSJ’s blog entry stated that, “Thankfully, a majority of those who survive heart attacks are able to return to work, other studies suggest.” Huh? If your job is so stressful that it gave you a heart attack, why on earth would you want to return to that job? “Whatever doesn’t kill you make you stronger?”

British Doc Pisses People Off by Calling Out Fat

Dr. Hamish Meldrum is the head of the British Medical Association and has upset a lot of people because he wants to stop sugar-coating the obesity problem and start some serious prevention. Meldrum’s view is that obesity is not always a “medical” problem, but a behavioral one, and when doctors are too quick a write a prescription for a pill for a patient who should be best helped with dietary modification and behavioral changes around food, this prevents overweight people from taking personal responsibility about their weight problems. (more…)

Religious Doctors May Not Be Called to Serve the Poor

gif_occu_c_043_ss.gif For many doctors (religious or not), the practice of medicine is more a “job” than a “calling”, even though there may be an undercurrent of “desire to serve”. Ask any job applicant, and you’ll get the typical answer: “I am applying for this job because I want to help people.” Doctors enter medicine for many reasons, one of which may be “to help people”, but this is different from being called specifically to serve a certain group of people. It does bring a reality check for those patients who believe that a doctor’s religious affiliation may have a greater influence on the altruistic motives of that doctor than a doctor who does not claim a religious affiliation. (more…)

Menstruation and Bone Rebuilding in Anorexic Women

Reuters reported on a study that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that suggests the restoration of normal menstrual periods in anorexic women to be necessary for normal bone metabolism and prevent osteoporosis.

One of the limitations of this study is the small sample size: when I checked out the abstract, the study contained only 28 women. Additionally, there may be other confounding effects, including the role of dietary intake in bone metabolism. The study suggests that anorexic women form bones at a normal rate, but break down bones faster than they make bones to result in net loss of bone mineral density. (more…)

Ladies, Let’s Zap Your Periods

First it’s zapping bad memories (see previous article) and now – monthly periods for women. Gents, you may think of this post as “for ladies only” but keep reading: this has general biological implications for either gender.

Did you know that a small percentage – 8% according to this NYT report – of women have such painful periods that the condition qualifies as a disorder?

Enter Wyeth – a company manufacturing a pill that will zap debilitating periods – “forever”. (more…)

Massachusetts Mandatory Health Insurance Law for Young People

I don’t know what your finances looked like when you were when you were 18 or in your early twenties, but I was a starving graduate student barely able to afford rent. If now I have to pay at least $100 each month on top of my expenses, I’d sink deeper into debt unless I move out of that state. Now, MA is requiring all taxpayers to prove that they have health insurance, which would include young adults who are still either in school or starting to chip away at student loans with their first jobs.

Of course, the politicians are going to espouse the wonders of early prevention and encouraging young people to take better care of their health so that they could lead long, healthy lives. One of the reason why HMOs love healthy adults and young people is because the number crunchers have found that they are less likely to use health care simply because statistics show that this population is healthier than an older age group. This means the HMOs will come out ahead in their business of covering for treatment and cost of care. The truth is, the Massachusetts bureaucrats want the young to pay and subsidize health care utilization by the aging population. We’ve seen how well this concept of “taxing one generation to pay for the other generation” has worked for social security; health care is a hegemonic burden that is finding its expenses to all segments of the population (except for illegal immigrants, but that’s another unwieldy topic).

I’m glad I’m not a young person living in Massachusetts.

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