We are afraid of Heart Disease, but what about the “Unknown Killer”?

May 1, 2008

*Note: This post is at least partially intended to infuriate doctors and those studying medicine… hehehehe : ).

Recently, my uncle was hospitalized after having a shortness of breath… they soon found that he was very, very sick. Upon seeing what goes on at hospitals, it got me to thinking. This post is the result of my (very brief and not at all scientific) studies…

We are all very aware that heart disease is published as the leading cause of death in the U.S. (652,486 deaths in 2004 according to the CDC). Cancer comes in at a close second at 553,888 deaths. Strokes are third at 150,074. This is all very eye-opening, maybe even scary (those numbers are pretty intimidating), but what kills even more people (as best anyone can tell) than heart disease? The answer is a little-known condition called Iatrogenesis… what is Iatrogenesis, you ask? It is officially defined as “a state of ill health as a result of medical treatment”. Almost unbelievably, doctors are one of the leading causes of death in the modern U.S.!!!

Estimates range from 220,000 a year to 750,000 deaths a year, depending on your source. This fact (that various sources do not agree on the exact number) is disturbing in itself. Is it really possible that 500,000 people are dieing per year as a result of seeing a medical professional?

A quick search on the internet will yield a plethora of well documented cases regarding Iatrogenesis.
I can almost hear doctors rushing to there own defense now… “Medicine is a field in which an inherent amount of danger is present as a result of the limited amount of knowledge that we have of the human body/immune system!”.

At first, I could sympathize… after all, they are doing their best, right?

This is where the story gets interesting… again, estimates vary, but a common number among a variety of sources seems to indicate that almost 100,000 people a year are hospitalized unnecessarily. On top of that, 12,000 people a year die as a result of unnecessary surgery. UNNECESSARY SURGERY?! What the heck is that? Is it possible that doctors recommend surgery as a result of economic motivations?

I used to support the concept of tort reform… I used to think that doctors had it rough due to their own insurance costs… but 500,000 people die a year after seeking their services?

This may sound harsh, but I cannot fathom any other profession in which 500,000 “errors” that result in deaths a year would be acceptable…

Before we scream for tort reform in the area of medical practice liability, maybe it is time for the doctors of the U.S. to get it together!


Speaking of research…

May 1, 2008

Speaking of research (see the last post), I have noticed lately that although I should not feel too busy or overburdened, I am finding that I have little time to do the things I feel that I need to do, so…

I am going to start tracking (writing down) everything that I do during the day and how much time it takes. Then I am going to take a look at what I am spending my time doing, prioritize, and adjust accordingly. There are already a few things that are obvious:

Work takes up the most time of each 24 hour period, with sleep coming in a close second. Beyond that, I have no idea where most of my time goes, but there are a few changes that I am going to make right now… For example, I am sure that I spend quite a bit of time camping in front of the TV, and I know that this is fairly low on my list of how I would like to spend my time… so for the next month, I am going to TRY not to watch TV… at all. I am not the kind of person that goes after these things in a “sort-of-kind-of” way (anyone who has witnessed my successful effort to give up soft drinks can attest), so I assume that I will: Not change my TV habits at all, OR: I am done with it completely. We’ll see how this goes.


What did you say you are researching?

May 1, 2008

***EDIT: After posting about silly research this morning, Mr. Dan Meyer, one of the authors of the “Sword Swallowing” study was kind enough to comment on the post (see “comments”). After reading over his response, I have to agree that any research that helps save lives is well worthwhile, and for that I sincerely commend him (although I must admit, any study titled “Sword Swallowing and its Side Effects” is good for a laugh). No offense intended, Mr. Meyer, and keep up the good work! … BTW, isn’t a sure-fire way to prevent sword swallowing related injuries simply to not swallow swords?

While browsing the news headlines today I came across a pretty funny one…

The headline read: “Alcohol linked to aggression”.

Really? What a surprise…

After reading the article (found here: http://health.msn.com/health-topics/addiction/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100202148&GT1=31033) I discovered that someone ( a group of people, actually) took a sample of 12 people, got them hammered, and scanned their brains to find the effects of alcohol. The research was time consuming and relatively expensive. What was the result, you ask?

The result showed exactly what anyone who has ever been drunk could tell you from experience… alcohol makes you think about sex and violence.

Why do I care, you ask?

As a grad student, I am always interested by the research that ends up getting published… It seems that some “academicians” like to research things just for the sake of researching things.

As a matter of fact, there is now an award dedicated to stupid research. Known as the Ig Nobel Prize, the award is given to academicians engaged in the most idiotic research in their area for the year. I recommend you visit http://www.improbable.com and take a look at some of the winners.

Last year, the winners included such time wasting research efforts as “Sword Swallowing and its Side Effects” in the area of Medicine, “Wrinkling of an Elastic Sheet Under Tension” in Physics (this was a study on why sheets wrinkle), and my personal favorite, “Effects of Backward Speech and Speaker Variability in Language Discrimination by Rats” in the area of Linguistics, which showed that rats cannot tell the difference between someone speaking Japanese backwards and Dutch backwards.

So the next time you start to think that a friend in grad school or the PhD down the street might be really intelligent, ask them what they are researching… the results may surprise you.