Monday, August 29, 2005

For the Hypochondriac in All of Us

As it turns out, Americans worry about health issues more than they should. And it is making us sicker.

Excerpts from Marc Siegel's piece in the Washington Post:

Anthrax infected 22 people through the U.S. mail in the fall of 2001, killing five. Yet 30,000 people began taking the powerful antibiotic Cipro, many indiscriminately and without a doctor's prescription...

Over the past century, we Americans have dramatically reduced our risk in virtually every area of life, resulting in life spans 60 percent longer in 2000 than in 1900...

This year the concern is bird flu, and more than 2 million doses of a hastily prepared vaccine will be discarded if the dread virus doesn't mutate to a form that can infect us. Since this mutation occurs once in 50 years, the current worry may well turn out to be overblown...

We feel the stress [of overhyped, insignificant health threats] and become more prone to irritability, disagreement, worry, insomnia, anxiety and depression. We are more likely to experience chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and headache. We become more prone to heart disease, cancer and stroke, our greatest killers.

My friends and I are all horrible hypochondriacs. And many of our health concerns are suspiciously tied to news reports, pharmaceutical ads, internet "symptom searches," and stirring episodes of ER. In the summer, we hear about the dangers of sun exposure and go to get every last mole inspected by a dermatologist. As birth control commercials came on television warning about the danger of blood clots, the females among us all came down with a bad case of psychosomatic deep venous thrombosis. During the summer of West Nile, we piled on the bug spray and still panicked at the appearance of a slight headache, thinking that the encephalitis had set in. In just the past few months, my friends have complained of brain tumors, intenstinal worms, skin cancer, restless leg syndrome (that was mine), wastings disease, diabetes, and other various illnesses, all of which turned out to be, surprise surprise, nothing.

So I think Mr. Siegel may be right...we might be worrying ourselves to death. Or we might just need a better outlet for our overactive imaginations. Poetry reading, anyone?


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