Parents believe many young babies given medication which is useless

If it’s called a disease it needs medication, even if the medication won’t do any good. At least that seems to be the conviction of a surprising percentage of people, in this case people who are parents of babies in their first year. The online journal Paediatrics published a new study this month about the power of labels to promote over-medication, specifically of the condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

They conducted a survey of in-clinic parents to try and determine how much weight a label pulls in a parent’s decision to request medication. The group was given a hypothetical situation where an infant often cried and spit up but was otherwise healthy. Half were told that the infant had GERD, the other half were just told it was a fairly common condition. Also half were told that existing medications were ineffective, the others weren’t given any information regarding effectiveness.

The group of parents who were told the child had been diagnosed with GERD but that prescribed medication was unlikely to help were still interested in having the child medicated. Parents who were not given a label for child’s symptoms and were told about the medicine’s lack of effectiveness were much less interested in medicating. Those who were given no label and no information about effectiveness were slightly more interested in medicating; they assumed medication would work.

The conclusion reached from parents’ response to the hypothetical scenario was that putting a label on certain symptoms increases the likelihood that prescribed medication will be used. As noted in the report, the medicines used to treat GERD are some of the most widely used for children up to one year of age, and there is evidence that GERD is over-diagnosed and over-medicated. This study suggests that one of the reasons for the over-medicating is that physicians are too quick to name that disease, and parents are over-reacting to the name more than to any severity of symptoms.

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