Dr. Richard Kravitz on Advertising Turning Us Into Hypochondriacs

We see it – We feel it!

Kravitz0412 Dr. Richard Kravitz on Advertising Turning Us Into Hypochondriacs Photo

Dr. Richard Kravitz

Many feel ill at ease talking about certain ailments that have a stigma associated with them. According to Consumer Reports’ October issue of “On Health,” advertising companies take advantage of this awkwardness by giving fancy new names to old medical problems and offering “specialized” medications to treat them.

ves allhave Dr. Richard Kravitz on Advertising Turning Us Into Hypochondriacs Photo

Vesicare treats Overactive Bladder. Making readers think "We all" have an overactive bladder. (mattsherring.com)

For instance are you suffering from incontinence or an overactive bladder? Is someone impotent or suffering from erectile dysfunction? It may depend on the advertisement they’ve read or seen on television.

Some experts see this trend as blurring the line between normal health and conditions that require their “specialized” medications.  Others see this as a positive trend helping consumers understand the cause and form of their problems and encourage patients to talk to their doctors more openly.

Dr. Richard Kravitz, has researched the effect of ads on doctors and patients.

“The goal of advertising is often to blur the distinction between the lower end of normal and the beginning of a disease. It increases the use of drugs among people who need them, but also increases prescriptions among people in that gray zone.”

According to Vitals.com, Kravitz a professor of internal medicine at the University of California received his medical degree at the University Of California San Francisco School Of Medicine and completed his residency at the University of California.

Consumer Reports’ “On Health” offers 3 samples of ads making you feel sicker than you are.

1. Urinary incontinence is devastating to many, but more people are actually suffering from less severe urinary problems.  Using symptoms that relate to both, drug companies made up the term “overactive bladder,” developed medication to treat it and launched an advertising campaign.
More than incontinence, even frequent urinary problems are often overstated. A 2007 European study showed that only 8 percent of adults actually suffer from this.

Viagra%20magazine%20ad Dr. Richard Kravitz on Advertising Turning Us Into Hypochondriacs Photo

Viagra Ad for Erectile Dysfunction. They can't possibly be over 65. (blog.lib.umn.edu)

2. Viagra, the first oral drug for erectile dysfunctions, is commonly used by men aged 18-45 even though impotence is pretty uncommon until aged 65 or so.   Showing young, healthy vibrant men in their advertising, the makers of Viagra have managed to influence younger consumers into believing that they are inadequate unless they take the drug. Government research has shown that 15-25 percent of all 65 year olds and only 5 percent of those in their 40s suffer from erectile dysfunction.

3. A recent study revealed that between 1996 and 2000 the use of antidepressants in America doubled from 13 million to 27 million users.  People with marginal symptoms account for a large portion of that and direct to consumer advertising is responsible for some of it.

zoloft ad Dr. Richard Kravitz on Advertising Turning Us Into Hypochondriacs Photo

Zoloft Ad for antidepressants. Who doesn't have dishes in their sink? (ukiahcommunityblog)

In an experiment published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Kravitz and his colleagues trained actors to portray patients with major depression or less serious depression that was related to stressful events. Kravitz found that when the actors asked for an antidepressant they received a prescription more than half the time.

Drugs can be a boon in treating a condition, but too often are used as an unnecessary, sometimes harmful, intervention. Physicians are fast to pull their prescription pad out and pharmaceutical companies are always ready to pitch new treatments. But consumers also play a role in their eager search for a quick fix.