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Media Reports on Medical Research may encourage Self-Medication

Updated on March 15, 2018

Aspirin helpful?

The British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, carried a news report about medical research into bowel cancer (27 October 2011). The study was on 861 people with people with a high risk of bowel cancer, due to genetic and family factors. The two scientists who undertook the study were naturally excited and pleased with their findings, that a daily dose of aspirin, lowered the risk of developing tumors, and inhibited the growth of tumors in those at high risk of developing bowel cancer.

Professor Sir John Burn of Newcastle University, one of the researchers, said "People who've got a clear family history of, particularly, bowel cancer should seriously consider adding low dose aspirin to their routine and particularly those people who've got a genetic predisposition.”Professor Sir John Burn added he was now taking low dose aspirin and added "I think where we're headed for is people that are in their 50s and 60s would look very seriously at adding a low dose aspirin to their daily routine because it's giving protection against cancer, heart attack and stroke”.

One can understand that scientists are excited by their research findings, but how many people, on hearing this item, will begin taking ordinary aspirin, without medical advice? When research studies showed that low dose aspirin was useful in preventing strokes and heart attacks, in those at risk, or people that had signs of vascular disease, many ordinary people began taking aspirin every day on their own volition. Aspirin has side effects, such as gastro-intestinal bleeds and ulcers. Research published in the Lancet disputes that aspirin is beneficial in those with a low risk of vascular disease and that aspirin's side effects outweigh the preventative value. The research concluded that only those, who had already suffered a stroke or heart attack, should take daily aspirin, and then only under medical supervision.

Why One Should not Self medicate and What to Do

When a doctor prescribes aspirin, for heart attack or stroke, it is different to the ordinary aspirin that one buys over the counter at the pharmacist’s, supermarket, or drug store. It is a special low dose aspirin.

Doctors are always warning about the dangers of taking too much aspirin. Whilst research is very exciting, people should not just decide to take aspirin, or indeed any other medical treatment. They should always consult their family doctor, who will advise them as to whether it is necessary in all the circumstances.

The media often report medical scientific research in the same way as this particular news item. It is no wonder that people sometimes decide to self medicate on the strength of such reports or are confused as to what they should do to safeguard their health.

The wider point is that, although medical research sometimes reveals exciting results, researchers and media companies reporting on the research should be more careful and responsible as to how information on that research is reported to the public. The best person to advise any individual to take medicine regularly is that person's own medical adviser, because only s/he knows that person's medical history and peculiarities.

Research study findings may not apply to everyone, for example, many of the research study subjects of research into side effects of medicines were men. Recently scientists realised that women's bodies react differently to men's bodies, and that drugs may have very different effects in men and women and particular patients may have particular sensitivities. Self-medication can cause more harm than good. Broadcasters, reporters and scientists themselves should be responsible and careful in reporting medical research to the public.

© 2011 Mercia Collins


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