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The Dangers of
Watching Drug Ads

by Liya Moges

Advertisements have become a daily fixture in our lives. Whether we want to watch them or not, they’ve become the true form of marketing today. There were probably times where you were sitting on the couch, watching your favorite TV show or YouTube video, when all of a sudden your show is cut off with a bright colored ad with flowery music in the back with an actor telling you “With this disease…I wasn’t living up to my full potential…that was until I started taking Humira….now I’m able to enjoy my life to the fullest!”

That is what we call a direct-to-consumer drug advertisement, or simply put, a pharmaceutical ad. These types of advertisements can be quite dangerous when promoted as often as they are in today’s society, so it’s important that as consumers, we understand the dangers and risks we take in consuming this type of media.

What are pharmaceutical ads?

Pharmaceutical ads, or direct-to-consumer drug advertising (DTCDA), are media efforts made by pharmaceutical companies to promote their prescription drugs directly to patients. The purpose behind these ads, stated by pharmaceutical companies themselves, is to create educated consumers who are well-informed of the choices they have available in terms of prescriptions. Essentially, they want to help consumers become empowered enough to take control of their illnesses and conditions, and though this seems like a positive thing, promoting ads like these have only made consumers paranoid and doubtful about the medical care they are already receiving.

How can pharmaceutical ads be harmful?

Many reports state that consumers end up placing a lot of trust and belief in TV prescription ads due to the placative marketing strategies used by pharma Companies. This unwarranted trust has led to consumers asking their doctors to prescribe them prescriptions for the advertised drugs without really knowing the effects the medication may have. In a recent study, practitioners reported instances in which they were bombarded by patients who requested prescription drugs they’ve seen on TV. In this study, practitioners claimed that they felt pressured to prescribe patients these drugs and prescriptions, even when they felt it was inappropriate to do so.

The overall use of direct-to-consumer drug advertising can lead to disproportionate risks and hazards for consumers and patients alike. According to the NCBI, these ads have been known to provide misinformation regarding several prescriptions by over-emphasizing treatment benefits, undermining treatment risks, and promoting the use of prescription medicines instead of a general healthier lifestyle. These ads can also lead to the overutilization and unnecessary prescription of medications by practitioners (as mentioned before) which can impose strains on patient-physician relationships.

Does this mean I shouldn’t watch any drug-related ads?

With the amount of money being put into broadcasting and marketing for these prescription advertisements, it would be very difficult for the average person to avoid watching any of these ads. The point of this article is to inform you of the possible dangers that pharmaceutical advertisements can have. Ads like these can on occasion be helpful and allow consumers, who may have an unknown illness or condition, to look for warning signs or symptoms they may have not known are related to an actual illness. Often times, though, it can mislead consumers and end up putting a strain on physicians to prescribe these newer medications that they feel will not help their patients.

What if I see a prescription ad that could benefit me?

If you do see a prescription ad on TV that you feel could possibly help you, it’s important that you do your research first because many of these prescriptions will have many side effects that may end up outweighing the benefits.

It’s also important that if you do feel as though the prescription ad can benefit you, that you speak with your primary care physician in an open and honest manner. Physicians are here to help and guide you about any and all health concerns you have, so if you feel as though a certain medication or prescription from an ad could benefit you, be open to talking with your primary care giver and see if this medication is right for you!

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Liya Moges is a passionate and dedicated junior studying Biomedical Science, Business, and Law at Georgia State University. She works at Emory University Hospital supporting nurses and physicians on a Complex Medicine floor and uses this opportunity to shadow different physicians in different specialties. She has an interest in health equity which plays a role in Liya’s desire to spread awareness on diversity/inclusion and health equity within healthcare.  

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A Look at Prostate Health

by Michelle Powell

According to the White House, 248,500 Americans were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2021. It is the second most common cancer and causing cancer death in male Americans. September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month to support prostate cancer patients through various methods like education and treatment and to increase awareness because 1 in 8 men in the United States is diagnosed with it. 

 

What is the prostate gland?

The prostate is only found in the male human body, about the size of a walnut, and helps produce semen. It’s below the bladder and in front of the rectum, wrapping around the urethra which is responsible for carrying urine from the bladder out of the body.

 

What are causes prostate problems?

Acute prostatitis is due to a bacterial infection. On the other hand, the cause of chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome is undiscovered. Some possibilities are the immune system incorrectly targeting the prostate, undetected bacteria or fungal infections, certain foods, stress and depression, repeated biopsies, trauma to the genitourinary area, and chronic pain conditions

 

According to Harvard University, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is an enlarged prostate. The leading risk factor is age though other associated conditions are a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Also, a diet high in refined grains, sugar, and red meat are correlated to BPH. 

 

What are common prostate problems?

Prostate problems are associated with prostatitis, BPH, and cancer. Prostatitis is an inflamed prostate with two types: acute prostatitis and chronic prostatitis.

 

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) is when the gland has grown excessively in men over the age of 50. It doesn’t cause cancer but is a normal part of the growth process for men. 

 

What are the symptoms of prostate problems?

Chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome has various symptoms: burning and pain during urination, pain in the pelvis, lower back or perineum (between the scrotum and the rectum), and pain or difficulty ejaculating. It may also cause spasming of the pelvic floor muscles. As stated by Harvard University, some males claim blood appears in the semen and a fullness feeling in the rectum.

 

BPH’s symptoms are known as lower urinary tract symptoms or LUTS. For example, leaking, can’t empty the bladder, more frequent urination, and interrupted urine stream. The inability to urinate, can damage the kidneys and is painful.

 

While not observable, prostatitis increases blood levels of prostate-specific antigen also known as PSA. The Mayo Clinic reports the PSA test is a blood test to screen for prostate cancer. PSA is a protein created from cancerous and noncancerous tissue in the prostate.

 

What is prostate cancer?

Most diagnoses of prostate cancer are not derived from symptoms but from blood tests and a biopsy. Low-risk forms of cancer may have no symptoms though some are difficulty urinating or bone or back pain from the cancer spreading. 

 

Cancer begins in the prostate gland and if it’s limited to the prostate, it is localized prostate cancer. It also may spread to other body parts.

 

There is no exact cause of prostate cancer but genetic defect, age, family history, race, diet, and obesity are risk factors. Additionally, radiation, chemicals, and inflammation can impact the prostate.

 

Who is at risk for prostate cancer?

According to the doctors at the Henry Ford Health System, African Americans are twice as likely to get prostate cancer as compared to white men. Genetics plays a role because African Americans’ genetic mutations are different causing them to have a more aggressive cancer. Low enrollment in clinical trials is also a factor because Blacks are not well represented in clinical trials. Recruitment rate for them is low and the results of a prostate cancer clinical trial won’t apply to them because they were not represented in the trial. A third reason is access to care with no health insurance.

 

According to the American Cancer Society, they estimate in 2022, 268,490 men will be identified with prostate cancer. On a positive note, 90% of men survive for 10 years after diagnosis, and 96% survive 15 years.

 

When should I see my doctor?

If you are concerned about your prostate and experience any of the symptoms listed above, you should talk to a licensed medical professional.

 

How do I prevent prostate cancer?

Its causes are unknown but the risks may be lowered. A lifestyle change to exercising and eating a Mediterranean-style diet lowers the risk of an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer.

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Michelle Powell is an undergraduate student at Michigan State University majoring in Human Biology with plans to become a physician or a physician assistant. She is passionate about writing stories to help people. This led her to join her school’s Her Campus chapter. With her passion for journalism, Michelle joined the Today’s Patient team to focus on medicine and medical issues to help patients better understand how to navigate the healthcare system.

September 2022  page 2