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Disease Label May Foster Over-Treatment of Infant Ills

Giving a condition a name makes parents more likely to seek out meds even if they're ineffective

Disease Label May Foster Over-Treatment of Infant Ills

MONDAY, April 1 (HealthDay News) -- Labeling an infant's spitting up as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) makes parents more interested in utilizing medication even when they are told the treatment is likely to be ineffective, according to a study published online April 1 in Pediatrics.

Laura D. Scherer, Ph.D., from the VA Ann Arbor Center for Clinical Management Research in Michigan, and colleagues surveyed parents in a general pediatric clinic regarding a hypothetical clinical scenario describing an infant who cries and spits up excessively but is otherwise healthy. Parents were randomized to a scenario in which the doctor either gave a diagnosis of GERD or did not provide a disease label. Additionally, half of the participants were told that existing medications are likely ineffective, and half were not given any medication effectiveness information.

The researchers found that even when they were told medications are probably ineffective, parents who received a GERD diagnosis were interested in medicating their infant. Parents who were not given a disease label were only interested in medication when medication effectiveness was not discussed (and hence likely assumed).

"These findings suggest that use of disease labels may promote over-treatment by causing people to believe that ineffective medications are both useful and necessary," the authors write.

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