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Drug may help hypochondriacs

Rating

1 Star

Drug may help hypochondriacs

Our Review Summary

First, let's emphasize that this is a brief article in a "Science Notebook" section.  It runs only 244 words. There are risks in trying to condense medical research stories into 244 words, and this story reflects those risks.

This is a very incomplete story about a possible treatment option for hypochondriasis. 

The story did not include information on the prevalence of hypochondriasis in the population, and didn't differentiate between cases that might fit the definition of "potentially serious" and others.  Yet it highlighted one study participant (without telling how many were in the trial) "who said he had fears starting at age 10 that he was going to die in his sleep."  Is that a common, representative example?  Or is it an extreme?  

On the other hand, the opening line – "a real pill for your unreal illness"  – insults people who do have this condition.

It lacks information on the benefits or harms of Paxil, and didn't quantify any of the study findings.  The story did not adequately describe the size, design, duration or outcomes of the trial. It makes no comparison with other treatment options available to people who are troubled by this condition.

It is apparently a single-source story; the source of information for this study appears to be a journal article.  No one is quoted. There is no evidence of any input sought from any source independent of the study.  See our primer on the risks of single-source stories.

While it was helpful to mention that the scientists received funds from the manufacturer of the drug discussed, this story did more to promote the use of Paxil for hypochondria than did the actual study. 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There was no mention of costs.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story contained an anecdote on the improvement one person observed after taking Paxil.  However, there was no quantification of the average benefit, the range of benefit observed, or even an explanation of what benefit was observed.

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

Not Satisfactory

There was no mention of potential risks with the use of Paxil.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story did not adequately describe the size, design, duration or outcomes of the trial.

Although the story did not explicitly mention that the study was a randomized controlled trial, it did explain that Paxil was compared to a sugar pill (placebo) and to cognitive behavioral therapy for effectiveness in helping people affected by hypochondria.  However, the story did not accurately represent the results of the study.  The story said "the medication significantly reduced people's fears about imaginary illnesses." But, in fact, only when you compared the three groups (Paxil, cognitive behavioral therapy, and sugar pill) did one find that there were significant differences among the groups.  A back of the envelope comparison only between those taking Paxil and placebo finds that the difference between these two is not statistically significant.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The story did not include information on the prevalence of hypochondriasis in the population, and didn't differentiate between cases that might fit the definition of "potentially serious" and others.  Yet it highlighted one study participant (without telling how many were in the trial) "who said he had fears starting at age 10 that he was going to die in his sleep."  Is that a common, representative example?  Or is it an extreme?  

On the other hand, the opening line – "a real pill for your unreal illness"  – insults people who do have this condition.

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

Not Satisfactory

The source of information for this study appears to be a journal article.  No one is quoted. There is no evidence of any input sought from any source independent of the study.  

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The only options one could glean from the story were the use of cognitive behavioral therapy or the drug Paxil for management of hypochondria.  There was no discussion of other medications that are used for this purpose, nor any other psychological approaches that are used.

The story mentioned "a combination of this talk therapy and medication might be especially effective" though the study on which this story was written contained no data on this combination and so this is pure speculation.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story is about the medication Paxil, which is a readily available prescription medication though the piece failed to mention this and the fact that the use of Paxil in the treatment of hypochondriasis has not been approved by the FDA.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story suggested that this was a new use for the drug Paxil.

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

Not Applicable

We can't judge if the story relied solely or largely on a news release.  No one is quoted.  It appears to be drawn directly from an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry and may have been spawned by a news release.  

Total Score: 1 of 9 Satisfactory

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