Health News Review

This story reports that data were presented at a scientific meeting.  But it didn’t tell readers what the data showed. But it did allow a company VP – the only person quoted – to say this could be a "breakthrough."  Wow.

Our Review Summary

Menstrual cramps are a very common complaint.  For most women there are simple treatments that are highly effective.  Anti-inflammatory medications available without prescription (such as ibuprofen or naproxen) have been shown to lessen menstrual pain. Birth control pills can also reduce cramping in many women.

This story reports on a very experimental new drug (so experimental it doesn’t have a name yet) that is designed to block the hormone vasopressin, a hormone that causes contractions of the uterine muscles (which causes cramps and bleeding). However, this story provides very little in the way of balanced, useful information to a woman seeking information on treatments for menstrual cramps. It sensationalizes the "suffering" of women with this condition. It appears to simply repeat the spin of the drug company business development VP rather than doing any actual independent reporting.


Why This Matters

Stories that report on new drugs should NOT rely solely on quotes from a drug company VP of business development – kind of a biased view!


Criteria

Not Applicable

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable:  costs not discussed, but that’s understandable for such an experimental new drug.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story provided no data on how well the drug works, despite telling readers that data had been presented at a scientific meeting.  What were the results? 

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story mentions no potential harms or side effects. Although they may not be known, the story could have highlighted the fact that we don’t know if the drug is safe or not. As the old saying goes "Absence of proof does not equal proof of absence."

Not Satisfactory

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story says that "The researchers presented data from a Phase 2 clinical trial Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco" – but it never tells us what those data showed!!!

Yet it lets a drug company VP get away with saying, "We certainly believe this drug has the potential to be a breakthrough."

Not Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The story exaggerates the extent of "suffering" in women with menstrual pain. While it is true that the condition is common and the side effects are bothersome, it is not a severe problem demanding treatment in all women. 

The last line of story, "Until then, ladies, you’ll just have to suffer", regarding the fact that the new drug won’t be available for many years, sounds like drug company marketing, raising demand for an uNPRoven product.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The story only quotes a representative of the drug company. That’s no way to cover news about drugs in development.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story completely misrepresents the efficacy of available options for menstrual pain. Birth control pills and NSAIDS are two effective means of treating menstrual cramps. The story misleads the reader by implying that this new drug is somehow more effective because it treats the "root cause" of the problem, rather than just the symptoms. However, dysmenorrhea is a benign condition that is unlikely to cause any problems other than bothersome symptoms. Treating the symptoms is the ultimate goal of treatment.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story adequately explains that this drug is experimental and many years away from being approved and distributed.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story adequately describes the drug as a novel approach to treating menstrual cramps.

Not Applicable

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

If you want to hear how health/medical news is made, watch this news conference from the American Chemical Society http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/5663619. We can’t be sure what the LA Times did to report on the story, but we do know that they only quoted the same drug company VP who appears in this video.

Total Score: 2 of 8 Satisfactory


Comments

reader posted on May 14, 2014 at 8:36 am

Your statement: The story exaggerates the extent of “suffering” in women with menstrual pain. While it is true that the condition is common and the side effects are bothersome, it is not a severe problem demanding treatment in all women.”

What the LA Times blog post included (note: your link to the piece is not working):
“While half of all women experience some menstrual cramps, about 10 percent to 20 percent have a severe condition, called dysmenorrhea.”

What the NLM says:
“Many women have painful periods. Sometimes, the pain makes it difficult to perform normal household, job, or school-related activities for a few days during each menstrual cycle. Painful menstruation is the leading cause of lost time from school and work among women in their teens and 20s.”
[the lost-work time theme is echoed in the quote from the company executive]

Other:
From what I can tell, this was a blog post, rather than an article in the print edition. I could not find it in LexisNexis so am not certain.

I am not a huge fan of the click-bait articles on the LATimes site, nor a defender of this writer: it does seem, however, that it’s another example of forced categorization on your part leading to a misrepresentation of the gist of the article.

The line following the “breakthrough” quote from the company executive is “It’s still too soon to know if the drug will work, however.”

By parsing these articles as you do, material is taken out of context. The skepticism is embedded in the juxtaposition.

Yes, it’s tacky to just quote the company executive. Yes, the post is weak on the “underlying cause.” I’ll even give you that it’s hyping a potential product and helping to create a market.

But for the 10-20 of women with painful periods, who don’t want to be on birth control pills or NSAIDS (there are health risks to either), maybe an alternative would be a good thing.

Reply

    Gary Schwitzer posted on May 14, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Our clearly-stated comments policy states that commenters should identify themselves and leave a real email address. I published your comment although you did not comply with that requirement. Why wouldn’t you identify yourself?

    I don’t understand your comment about “another example of forced categorization.” What does that mean? And what do you mean by “another”? Where are the prior examples?

    There is nothing in what we wrote that minimizes or dismisses the problems of women with dysmenorrhea.

    We don’t control the lifespan of newspaper links. The news organization does.

    Blog posts by the LA Times or any news organization should be scrutinized as much as any other editorial content appearing in any format. Why should a newspaper’s blog post be treated any different? Now that several large news organizations have instituted policies of stories less than 500 words, such scrutiny will become even more important.

    Reply

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