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CNN hypes migraine "cure" and scares people on cholesterol-dementia link

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You tell me if this sounds like a cure. CNN.com posted a Health.com story on face lift surgery “curing” migraines. Excerpt:

In the year after the procedure, 57 percent of those who had the actual surgery reported the complete elimination of migraine headaches, compared with just 4 percent in the sham surgery group. In addition, 84 percent of those who had the surgery reported at least a 50 percent reduction in migraine pain compared with just 58 percent in the sham group.

However, nearly 60 percent of the people who had the sham procedure reported some migraine relief too. …

Overall, there was a 92 percent success rate, notes (the researcher).

Cure?

A 57% rate of complete elimination is a cure?

It’s not a cure for the other 43%, is it?

And 60% of people who got a fake treatment improved!

And then where does the 92 percent success rate come from? And couldn’t another headline just as accurately read that there’s a 60% success rate from fake treatments for migraines?

Then, in a story sent to me by one of my blog followers because she was bothered by it, CNN reported that:

People as young as 40 with borderline or high cholesterol levels are at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia, said a Kaiser Permanente study released Tuesday.

But it took them until the second last line of the story to add an important caveat:

Although the Kaiser study does not show proof that lowering cholesterol definitively lowers the risk for Alzheimer’s disease as well, many doctors agree that nothing adverse can come of reducing high cholesterol levels.

Wait a minute: the lead says they “ARE AT INCREASED RISK” but the end of the story says there’s no proof “THAT LOWERING CHOLESTEROL DEFINITIVELY LOWERS THE RISK.”

That’s because this was an observational study and the story never addressed the limitations of drawing conclusions from observational studies. It confused association (which is all an observational study can show) with causation (which an observational study can’t show). But it didn’t stop them from DEFINITIVELY scaring the hell out of cheeseburger-eating-40-year-olds in the lead. Be very afraid: you’re at risk and there may be nothing you can do about it! Amazing.

These two stories exhibit two subtle (sometimes not so subtle), but significant, and recurring flaws in health care stories:

  1. Cures are around every corner.
  2. We all should be afraid and should seek cures for the unknown dangers that lurk inside all of us.

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