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Are Americans Being Over Diagnosed?

Updated on March 12, 2016

Don't Go Looking for Trouble

My late grandmother used to say, "Don't go looking for trouble." What she meant is that if you go to the doctor, when you're feeling well, and a lot of tests are run, something could turn up. In an instant, you can go from being healthy to being sick.

I do need to point out that my grandmother was extremely fortunate. She lived a long life, even though her diet wasn't perfect and she smoked cigarettes.

Am I suggesting you follow her lifestyle? Not at all. We all know cigarettes cause cancer. Also, I can't give medical advice because I'm not a doctor.

Many may assume my grandmother didn't know what she was talking about. After all, isn't early detection a good thing? If something is wrong, shouldn't we try to find out as soon as possible, in order to fix it?

Not necessarily, according to some doctors who believe Americans are now being over diagnosed and over treated at a level never before seen.

Too Many Pills for Too Many Ills?


An "Epidemic" of Being Over Diagnosed

This has become a real problem for people living in the United States, especially if they have good health coverage, according to several respected medical experts who've studied this issue.

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, MD, author of OverDiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health, sums up the problem by calling it the "relentless pursuit of medicine" and "the epidemic of diagnosis."

Unfortunately, he notes, this trend can lead to treatments more devastating than the disease itself.

For example, mammography, with its ever-shifting guidelines, is a controversial procedure. While it may catch some early cancers, which may turn out to threaten a patient's life, there is also the danger of catching "malignancies" that will never grow. (The problem, though, is in knowing which abnormalities will progress.)

Left alone, abnormal cells may never cause problems. However, once they're found, this often sends a woman on a treacherous course. She may have disfiguring surgery. She may receive radiation and chemotherapy, both known to cause cancer. All of this is very stressful, to say the least. Would she be better off if she weren't diagnosed?

Americans and Prescription Drugs

Do You Think Pharmaceuticals are Over Prescribed in America?

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OverDiagnosed Offers a Balanced Perspective

Granted Dr. Welch voices a controversial and minority opinion, at least compared to what is currently practiced. However, his book is also balanced in the sense that it doesn't say to stay away from doctors altogether.

He uses a poignant example of a man he's been treating for years. This patient first came to him with chest pains. It was discovered he had serious hypertension, which needed treatment. By addressing this condition, Dr. Welch notes, this man, who probably suffered a minor heart attack years ago, at the time of his initial complaint, has suffered no more incidents. Medical intervention, in this case, probably saved his life.

However, hypertension is also the first condition that doctors began addressing in the absence of symptoms. Now, medicating someone based on tests alone has become the norm.

Years ago, Dr. Welch explains, doctors only intervened when someone came to them with specific symptoms. Deviating from this, he says, has its risks.

Did You Know?

  • American pharmaceutical firms sell $500 billion worth of drugs each year, according to Ray Moynihan and Arthur Cassels, authors of Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Firms are Turning Us All Into Patients.
  • Many common conditions, such as attention deficit disorder, and premenstrual tension that needs treatment, were unheard of decades ago.
  • One industry insider admitted that new diseases were being labeled, and old maladies redefined, in an effort to sell more drugs.
  • Prescription drugs are now the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States.

Going to a Doctor When You are Well

Dr. Welch notes that an early diagnosis is not always a good thing, depending upon each individual case.

If someone is symptom free, he explains, a mainstream medical professional is unlikely to offer them anything to improve upon this state.

However, prescribing various drugs, which have side effects, or running a barrage of tests, may change the picture.

Real prevention, on the other hand, means leading a healthier lifestyle, such as not smoking, getting enough exercise and eating foods that don't promote disease, according to Dr. Welch.

Hypertension is a Common Diagnosis


Scientist Talks about Over Medication

The Financial Reasons Behind Over Treatment

Ray Moynihan and Arthur Cassels, authors of Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning us all Into Patients," point out that drug companies are actually creating new disease labels in an effort to sell more drugs.

Consequently, perfectly normal conditions, such as menopause, are now seen as problems that must be dealt with on a pharmaceutical level.

They blame much of our current woes over the escalating cost of health care on this phenomenon. Doctors are now prescribing more drugs than ever, and people in the United States consume about half of all the pharmaceuticals produced in the world. This is despite the fact we only account for about 5 percent of the planet's population.

Researcher Raymond Francis, M.Sc., shown in the video above, discusses how prescription drugs, even if they're correctly prescribed, are a leading cause of death.

He also wrote a book, Never be Sick Again, in which he describes his near fatal experience with a pharmaceutical.

Is Money One Reason People are Over Diagnosed?


Medical Care Driven by Big Business


A Problem that's Scandalous

The authors of Selling Sickness point out that there's an unhealthy alliance between the pharmaceutical firms, advertising agencies and the physicians who prescribe the various drugs. They believe this is a "scandalous" situation that causes people to mistrust their doctors, as well as the entire medical-industrial complex.

Interviewed for their book was a Madison Avenue advertising executive who was forthright in how his various campaigns target the general public. Amazingly, he admitted that he tried to invent new diseases and conditions to increase pharmaceutical profits.

He notes that sometimes this involves redefining a previously existing malady. Other times it may be that a "new" condition is named, such as "attention deficit disorder."

Unfortunately, every drug has side effects, and the end result may be serious injury and even death.

In this new world, where healthy people are sometimes being made sick, Moynihan and Cassells point out that hormone therapy for menopausal women is now known to increase the risk of heart attacks and anti depressants may make someone who never contemplated killing themselves to become suicidal.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs marketed to otherwise healthy people is something also fraught with disaster. One of these prescriptions, no longer available, actually led to a number of deaths before it was taken off the shelves.


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These products are not meant to diagnose‚ treat or cure any disease or medical condition.

This article is not intended as medical advice, or diagnosis, and is only presented for information and discussion purposes. People with health concerns should discuss them with a physician. The author does not accept any responsibility for treatment decisions or outcome.


I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to


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  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    This is endorsed by me. I do not have much else.

  • CyberShelley profile image

    Shelley Watson 3 years ago

    Very interesting and some valid points made - one has to be careful and use your own judgement in everything.

  • profile image

    joanfrancis1 3 years ago

    Very important. And the birth control pill is a perfect example of pharmaceutical companies making millions while denying or downplaying serious risk of breast cancer - actually it's printed in minute print on the huge information paper attached with every prescription. Birth control pills are one of the main reasons breast cancer rates are skyrocketing and it's a travesty because this is a PREVENTABLE cause of breast cancer! I also think millions of kids on ADHD meds is another example of over-prescribing.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi joanfrancis, I totally agree with you on. Birth control pills are really bad news. I can't believe how many children are on these ADHD meds either.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Eric, thanks again.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi CyberShelly, people do need to stay informed, so they're not blindly led into something that can ruin their health, or worse.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is a very interesting and thought provoking hub, ologsinquito. You've raised some great points for me to think about!

  • pattyknap profile image

    pattyknap 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

    It's definitely a possibility that profit is behind some diagnoses. When you learn how some pharmaceutical companies want to hide their drugs' link to various diseases - such as the birth control pill with breast cancer - they clearly don't always have the public's best interests at heart.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi patty, I agree. Studies can be easily manipulated, or designed to show desired results. Birth control pills have been implicated as one factor in the breast cancer epidemic. Clearly this is not in the public's best interest.

    Years ago, when I was much younger, I read the heartbreaking story of an older couple whom had gone public over the death of their beloved daughter, a young newly married woman. She had been healthy, but, after taking these pills, developed a fast-moving form of breast cancer that killed her.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Alicia, thanks so much for reading.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    Shared! My experience as a high potential dollar value patient absolutely bears this out. The side effects were worse than the disease and led to more and more meds. What a vicious cycle. This is a terrific article.

  • Barbara Kay profile image

    Barbara Kay Badder 3 years ago from USA

    I completely agree with your article. Every time I have a physical, the doctor wants to put me on something new. I question it and the side effects of the drugs are terrible. I've been thinking of changing doctors.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Thanks for sharing FlourishAnyway, I'm sorry you had this experience with the meds and the side effects. I wish you continued healing and better health.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Barbara, I don't know what it is with these doctors. Some of them truly want to help, and they try to do it in the only way they know how, which is writing new prescriptions. It's crazy, because it's all driven by the drug companies. The doctors receive their training at institutes closely connected with the pharmaceutical firms. Everything they know about disease springs from that. So we have to watch out for ourselves and our loved ones.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Are Americans Being Over Diagnosed, I say yes. You have made valuable points here.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Thanks DDE. It seems like a dangerous situation.

  • vandynegl profile image

    vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

    Very good information! I am a strong believer in the fact that meds are money driven. There are some good doctors out there (like the one I have) who believes the "less medicine, the better." She, along with myself, follow an integrative approach. There are some short term instances where medicine can help, but it has to be supported with alternative methods too, such as lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, etc.). I also believe that some "preventative" procedures can cause more harm than help. Again, it is mostly money driven. To me, "prevention" is living a healthy life. Bottom line, it is all about the patient being proactive about their health. They are the ones in charge of saying "no" when prescribed blood pressure medicine, etc. No one forces us. Unfortunately, there are still a large number of people out there who believe that "Doctors know best" and will bend over backwards to do whatever they say.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    I agree that in many instances less is more. Prevention is definitely living a healthier life. Thanks so much for reading.

  • midget38 profile image

    Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

    Many points to ponder. Does psychosoma lead to over diagnosis? Sharing!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Thanks so much midget.

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