The Creation and Marketing of RLS
|A major article on “disease mongering” using the case of restless legs syndrome was published on PLOS in 2006 written by Steve Woloshin and Lisa M. Schwartz, two of the authors of the great book, Know Your Chances. Here is an excerpt and link to the article.
As you will see, this is just one of the PLOS articles on the subject of “disease mongering.”
from Giving Legs to Restless Legs
“Disease mongering” is the effort by pharmaceutical companies (or others with similar financial interests) to enlarge the market for a treatment by convincing people that they are sick and need medical intervention [ 2]. Typically, the disease is vague, with nonspecific symptoms spanning a broad spectrum of severity—from everyday experiences many people would not even call “symptoms,” to profound suffering. The market for treatment gets enlarged in two ways: by narrowing the definition of health so normal experiences get labeled as pathologic, and by expanding the definition of disease to include earlier, milder, and presymptomatic forms (e.g., regarding a risk factor such as high cholesterol as a disease in itself).
Discussions about disease mongering usually focus on the role of pharmaceutical companies—how they promote disease and their products through “disease awareness” campaigns and direct-to-consumer drug advertising, and by funding disease advocacy groups. But diseases also get promoted in another way: through the news media. News reports are a major source of health information for people . Unless journalists approach stories about new diseases skeptically and look out for disease mongering by the pharmaceutical industry, pharmaceutical consultants, and advocacy groups, journalists, too, may end up selling sickness.
The Case of Restless Legs Syndrome
To get a sense of how the media works in the context of a major disease promotion effort, we examined news coverage of “restless legs” (see sidebar). In 2003, GlaxoSmithKline launched a campaign to promote awareness about restless legs syndrome, beginning with press releases about presentations at the American Academy of Neurology meeting describing the early trial results of using ropinirole (a drug previously approved for Parkinson disease) for the treatment of restless legs [6, 7]. Two months later, GlaxoSmithKline issued a new press release entitled “New survey reveals common yet under recognized disorder—restless legs syndrome—is keeping Americans awake at night” about an internally funded and, at the time, unpublished study [ 8]. In 2005, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ropinirole for the treatment of restless legs syndrome (the first drug approved specifically for this indication). Since then, the restless legs campaign has developed into a multimillion dollar international effort to “push restless legs syndrome into the consciousness of doctors and consumers alike” [ 9]…
much, much more at PLOS