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Why is it so dangerous to believe more on the Internet than doctors?


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It started during a yoga class. He felt a strange pull on his neck, a sensation that was absolutely unknown to her. Her friend suggested she go to emergency immediately. It turned out I was having a heart attack.

The patient did not fit in the stereotype of a person with a chance of a heart attack. He exercised, he did not smoke and was careful about his diet; However, when reviewing your medical history, I discovered that their cholesterol levels were very high. They had prescribed statins to reduce cholesterol, but never paid attention to their prescription because of the terrible things that I had read on the internet about these medications. He was the victim of a suffering that is becoming rapidly in a modern-day pandemic: false medical news.

Although misinformation has been the subject of great attention in the political arena, medical disinformation could cause even more numerous casualties. As with false news in general, medical lies tend to have more Internet reach than truth and have quite real repercussions.

Many studies have shown that
the benefits of statins largely outweigh the risks, especially for those with high risks of heart disease. However, these drugs have become the target of a discrepant online band that includes paranoid fanatics, people who sell alternative therapies and those who only seek to get clicks. An invaluable amount of websites and social media publications exaggerate the risks that are actually rare and encourage unfounded assertions, stating that statins cause cancer to suggest that low cholesterol levels are harmful to health.
A 2016 study revealed that even articles that are limited to weighing the risks and benefits of statins were associated with patients who interrupted their treatment to reduce cholesterol, which is related to an increase in the incidence of heart attacks.

False medical information can also cause that
Patients have higher side effects because of the # 39; "nocebo effect". Sometimes, the patients improve with a surgical intervention just because they believe that this will be; this is the effect
placebo. the effect
nocebo It is the opposite: patients may have side effects only because they were predisposed to experience them. This is the case with statins. In double-blind experiments, patients treated with statins are not more likely to report muscle pain than those who take placebo. However, according to a study, almost a fifth of statin-bearing patients report side effects, which causes many to suppress the medication.

What other goal do the false news look like? As always, vaccinations. According to a deceptive story that became viral this year, the corpse of an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States was found in a river after he expressed concern about the influenza vaccine. Last week, Mark Green, a Tennessee doctor, recently elected by the Congress, repeated the
False widely denied that vaccines may cause autism (later he said his comments had been "misunderstood").

The false concerns that the vaccine against the human papilloma virus causes seizures and other side effects reduced the coverage rates in Japan by 70 percent to less than 1 percent in recent years. Those who apply the polio vaccine to Pakistan are frequently attacked by militants, since they believe that the vaccine has the goal of sterilizing the local population.

Cancer is another great goal of those who promote medical disinformation; Many of them make money with alternative therapies. In a fake article, the following is read: "Although many people believe that cancerous tumors are bad, it is actually the way in which the body seeks to stop harmful cells." This news suggests that a surgical intervention "implies the risk of spreading harmful cells," and warns that "prescribed medications cause an increase in acidity in the body, which increases uncontrollable cellular mutations ".

In a 2017 study it was discovered that when patients with cancer resort to alternative therapies such as diets, herbs and supplements instead of conventional therapies, the probability of them being killed is 2.5 times greater. By exploiting the fear of people, those who dissuade patients from receiving a test-based treatment have their hands stained with blood.

Doctors and nurses often try
Discourage patients from searching for answers online. However, patients continue to consult Google about their symptoms and medications because there is no need to make appointments or wait for a long time, there is no hurry, the network does not issue judgments, it does not require a large quantity deductible and It often provides information that seems easy to understand.

Silicon Valley should take care of this problem. I am not a lawyer specializing in freedom of expression, but when people's health is at risk, they should be responsible for search engines, social networking platforms and internet sites to promote or host false information.

The scientific community must do its utmost to educate the public about the key concepts in research, such as the difference between higher quality studies and observational studies. Transparency is crucial to maintaining public confidence, and news like the one that shows that researchers from the National Institutes of Health had requested and received financing from the alcohol industry to conduct a study on the benefits of the moderate ingestion demonstrate the speed with which this confidence can be undermined.

Finally, journalists can do a better job in disseminating truthful information. There is more chance that news sites will cover eye-catching observational studies than randomized controlled studies, perhaps because it is less likely that the latter generate surprising results. This type of coverage may exaggerate the benefits to ensure, for example, that statins can cure cancer or contribute to men having erections; It may also exaggerate the emphasis on potential risks, such as suggesting a misleading correlation with dementia. (Although a small amount of people seems to have episodes of temporary memory failures after taking statins, no randomized controlled study has proven an association between the medication and cognitive failures and certainly neither between this nor dementia).

However, presenting the facts may not be sufficient. he
Bumpy effect, in which people are still more hooked up with false beliefs when they're done, it can also happen when wrong medical concepts are put in doubt. To convince my patient that the statin was the best for her, I did not only provide the clinical information, but I shared a personal history: after my father had a heart attack, I asked Doctors immediately begin treatment with statin and with the highest dose. I told the patient that, although the statin could not guarantee that there was no other heart attack, I wanted my father to have the best chance of having a healthy life. It was then when he agreed to take the recipe.

To have the least opportunity to win the information war, doctors and researchers have to entertain our stories with scientific facts. This is the only way to solve the breach that has been opened between medicine and the masses, and now exploited by the merchants of medical disinformation.

Haider Warraich is a researcher of cardiac insufficiencies and transplants at the Duke University Medical Center

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