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Direct-to-consumer advertising increases statin use and high cholesterol diagnosis

Monday, March 25, 2013 by: Katie BrindAmour
Tags: DTC advertising, statin drugs, cholesterol

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(NaturalNews) Skeptics of the pharmaceutical industry have long expressed concern over the effect of direct-to-consumer advertising on diagnosis rates and prescription drug use. Perhaps not surprisingly, researchers at Cornell University recently found that exposure to advertisements about statins increased viewers' likelihood of being diagnosed and of using statins by 16-22 percent for both men and women. Most interestingly; however, the study found that this effect only held for people who were in least need of pharmaceutical treatment: the group of women and men at low risk of a future cardiac event.

The researchers point out that, for the low-risk group most affected by direct-to-consumer ads, the side effects or drawbacks of taking statins may outweigh the detrimental impact of untreated high cholesterol. High-risk women in the study were actually significantly less likely than those in moderate or low-risk categories to seek out statins despite exposure to direct advertising.

Self-diagnosis and the digital world of health information

With today's bounty of medical information online, individuals could simply run their symptoms through a symptom search to begin self-diagnosing or self-referring to cardiac specialists for problems such as high cholesterol. Although self-diagnosis has its perks - like motivating patients to seek professional medical advice and encouraging them to adhere to treatment regimens - it also can get in the way of more practical and less invasive medicine (like diet and exercise recommendations).

As the FDA looks into expanding over-the-counter access to a variety of drugs (including those for high cholesterol and high blood pressure), accurate self-diagnosis that still draws simple lifestyle-based advice will become especially crucial.

About one in three American adults has high cholesterol, and fewer than half of them get treatment for their condition. The list of complaints and supports for direct-to-consumer advertising for pharmaceuticals is lengthy and has strong arguments on both sides. The FDA has made multiple attempts to curb certain aspects of this advertisement industry, each time with different levels of success. Additional restrictions often requested include limits on the ability to mention specific drug names or the types of efficacy claims an ad can make.

Although a comprehensive reform is unlikely in the near future, one thing remains certain: direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs significantly impacts the map of diagnoses and drug use in the United States, for better or worse.

Sources for this article include:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23463454
http://www.healthline.com/symptomsearch
http://www.jopm.org
http://www.ihealthbeat.org
http://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/facts.htm
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3278148/

About the author:
Katie BrindAmour is a Certified Health Education Specialist and passionate health and wellness freelance writer. She enjoys cooking, yoga, gardening, searching for the perfect wine and chocolate combination, and spending time with friends. She has a Masters in Biology and is currently pursuing her PhD in Health Services Management and Policy. She also enjoys blogging for Women's Healthcare Topics and Healthline Networks.

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