North American pharmaceutical companies market their wares not only to doctors, clinics, and hospitals, but also to patients. They have found that by putting their advertisements on television they create a steady stream of potential customers who obediently head to their nearest medical centre to talk to their doctors, just as the ads recommend that they do.
These companies are obligated by law to identify not only the benefits but also the potential side effects of the drugs they sell. The consequence of this has been the laughable and/or terrifying thirty seconds or so of a soothing voice listing all manner of human frailties, ailments, and illnesses. Sometimes those voices speak at breakneck speed, perhaps in the hope that we’ll overlook the dire predictions.
I try to avoid those ads, but on a recent visit to my family doctor for my annual checkup I was given the benefit of an in-person version of them. My cholesterol has reached a level that indicates a need for medication. I have always had high LDL and HDL, but until recently the good one (HDL) balanced out the other. In the last couple of years, though, the bad one (LDL) has been winning the contest.
I have been fighting this battle with regular exercise and a more-or-less balanced diet, but apparently that is not enough. So, I have been prescribed a generic version of Crestor, and I’m ok with that because I have been anticipating this diagnosis for a few years. Along with the prescription, though, came the warnings.
I may have nightmares or headaches, I may suffer from depression, my muscles may become painful and weak, I may gain weight, I should reduce or quit drinking alcohol, I may become confused and have memory problems, I may urinate less than normal or not at all, my urine may be very dark, I may have a fever, and I may be unusually tired.
So, wouldn’t I be better off with high cholesterol than in taking these chances with a drug? Bear in mind, I feel fine. By taking this drug I run the risk of feeling worse in order to treat a health condition that does not noticeably impact me at all. I know that the chances of these negative effects are perceived to be within an acceptable range of likelihood, but it is very disheartening to read online users’ sad tales of misery and discomfort.
Yes, cholesterol is a silent killer and plaque builds up slowly in my blood vessels, so by the time I became aware of a problem it would be too late. I know that, and I trust the science. But at the same time, the list of potential harm is really, really long and the list of potential benefits is really short. Significant, but short.
I wonder how many people consider that list and say “No thanks. Who wants to live longer if it means living with nightmares, muscle pain, memory problems, and depression?” It’s not a happy prognosis.
Don’t worry, though. I’m going to take the meds. I am hopeful that I will have no or few negative side effects, and that even if I do there will be some remedy. At the same time, I wish that the people who spell out those side-effects would come up with a better way to do it.
I’m a visual learner, so instead of hearing the verbal onslaught I’d like to see a bar chart comparing the likelihood of negative effects to the positive value of the reduced cholesterol. If I could see a little tiny bar next to a really big bar, I’d feel a lot better about adding another medication to my daily routine. I would be much happier with that than I am with silver-tongued speed talkers.
But if the pharmaceutical companies don’t hire them, where will they go? The only people I imagine might need rapid-fire doomsayers are the people who create the voices on GPS systems. It would be very useful if you are about to drive into a lake to have a calm but quick explanation of all the reasons why that would be a bad idea.
Image source: Wikimedia