Long before the Internet and direct to consumer advertising, the medical profession tried to reassure people about their health concerns. Sure, fatigue and headaches could be a symptom of a brain tumor; sure, a cough could be a symptom of lung cancer—but most doctors tried to assuage, not sow, fear. Remember “take two aspirins and call me in the morning”?
Flash forward to today’s online “symptom checkers,” quizzes to see if you have a certain disease and exhortations to see your doctor even though you feel fine. Once Pharma discovered that health fears and even hypochondria sell drugs, there seems to be no end to the new diseases, symptoms and risks people need to worry about.
Selling symptoms to suggestible people has been a gold mine for Big Pharma since it started advertising directly to the consumer almost in the late 1990s. Thanks to such marketing which actually “sells” diseases to build demand, millions of people who were once fine now have season allergies, GERD and assorted attention, pain and spectrum disorders.