April 11, 2006
Pharmaceutical firms are inventing diseases to sell more drugs, researchers have warned.
Disease-mongering promotes non-existent diseases and exaggerates mild problems to boost profits, the Public Library of Science Medicine reported.
Researchers at Newcastle University in Australia said firms were putting healthy people at risk by medicalising conditions such as menopause.
But the pharmaceutical industry denied it invented diseases.
Report authors David Henry and Ray Moynihan criticised attempts to convince the public in the US that 43% of women live with sexual dysfunction.
They also said that risk factors like high cholesterol and osteoporosis were being presented as diseases - and rare conditions such as restless leg condition and mild problems of irritable bowel syndrome were exaggerated.
The report said: "Disease-mongering is the selling of sickness that widens the boundaries of illness and grows the markets for those who sell and deliver treatments.
"It is exemplified mostly explicitly by many pharmaceutical industry-funded disease awareness campaigns - more often designed to sell drugs than to illuminate or to inform or educate about the prevention of illness or the maintenance of health."
The researchers called on doctors, patients and support groups to be aware of the marketing tactics of the pharmaceutical industry and for more research into the way in which conditions are presented.
They added: "The motives of health professionals and health advocacy groups may well be the welfare of patients, rather than any direct self-interested financial benefit, but we believe that too often marketers are able to crudely manipulate those motivations.
"Disentangling the different motivations of the different actors in disease-mongering will be a key step towards a better understanding of this phenomenon."
But Richard Ley, of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said the research was centred on the US where the drugs industry had much more freedom to promote their products to the public.
"The way you can advertise is much more restricted in the UK so it is wrong to extrapolate it.
"Also, it is not right to say the industry invents diseases, we don't. It is up to doctors to decide what treatment to give people, we can't tell them."