Friday, October 17, 2014
Antidepressant use among Americans is skyrocketing. Adults in the U.S. consumed four times more antidepressants in the late 2000s than they did in the early 1990s. As the third most frequently taken medication in the U.S., researchers estimate that 8 to 10 percent of the population is taking an antidepressant. But this spike does not necessarily signify a depression epidemic. Through the early 2000s pharmaceutical companies were aggressively testing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the dominant class of depression drug, for a variety of disorders—the timeline below shows the rapid expansion of FDA-approved uses.
As the drugs' patents expired, companies stopped funding studies for official approval. Yet doctors have continued to prescribe them for more ailments. One motivating factor is that SSRIs are a fairly safe option for altering brain chemistry. Because we know so little about mental illness, many clinicians reason, we might as well try the pills already on the shelf.
Common Off-Label Uses
Doctors commonly use antidepressants to treat many maladies they are not approved for. In fact, studies show that between 25 and 60 percent of prescribed antidepressants are actually used to treat nonpsychological conditions. The most common and well-supported off-label uses of SSRIs include:
- Abuse and dependence
- ADHD (in children and adolescents)
- Anxiety disorders
- Autism (in children)
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Neuropathic pain
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
SSRIs have shown promise in clinical trials for many more disorders, and some doctors report using them successfully to treat these ailments:
- Deficits caused by stroke
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Hot flashes
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Neurocardiogenic syncope (fainting)
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Premature ejaculation
Thursday, October 16, 2014
As health officials scramble to explain how two nurses in Dallas became infected with Ebola, psychologists are increasingly concerned about another kind of contagion, whose symptoms range from heightened anxiety to avoidance of public places to full-blown hysteria.
So far, emergency rooms have not been overwhelmed with people afraid that they have caught the Ebola virus, and no one is hiding in the basement and hoarding food. But there is little doubt that the events of the past week have left the public increasingly worried, particularly the admission by Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that the initial response to the first Ebola case diagnosed in the United States was inadequate.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The Internet can be a dangerous place to get medical advice. Stomachaches turn into cancer, stress becomes an endocrine tumor. Crack remedies and strange diets abound. Now Google is playing with a new technology that it hopes will help people find more reliable medical information. It's called a doctor.
Google's "Helpouts" product — a service where people can search for experts and talk to them over video — is running a trial program in which people who are searching for symptoms like pink eye and the common cold can video-chat with a doctor. The company is working with medical groups including Scripps and One Medical, which are "making their doctors available and have verified their credentials," according to a spokeswoman.
"When you're searching for basic health information – from conditions like insomnia or food poisoning – our goal is provide you with the most helpful information available," the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Will history someday show that the electronic medical record almost did the great state of Texas in?
We do not really know whether dysfunctional software contributed to last month's debacle in a Dallas emergency room, when some medical mind failed to connect the dots between an African man and a viral syndrome and sent a patient with deadly Ebola back into the community. Even scarier than that mistake, though, is the certainty that similar ones lie in wait for all of us who cope with medical information stored in digital piles grown so gigantic, unwieldy and unreadable that sometimes we wind up working with no information at all.
We are in the middle of a simmering crisis in medical data management. Like computer servers everywhere, hospital servers store great masses of trivia mixed with valuable information and gross misinformation, all cut and pasted and endlessly reiterated. Even the best software is no match for the accumulation. When we need facts, we swoop over the surface like sea gulls over landfill, peck out what we can, and flap on. There is no time to dig and, even worse, no time to do what we were trained to do — slow down, go to the source, and start from the beginning.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
His first week on night float, Daniel Sanchez heard "Code Blue — Radiology," over the P.A. system, and started running.
"You run," said Dr. Sanchez, 31, a first-year resident at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center in Brooklyn, "to wherever the location is, because code blue means the patient is going into cardiac arrest."
He was sure it was a patient of his, a woman in her 60s, who had been admitted for chest pains. His team had sent her for a CT scan.
He ran down the eighth floor hallway, then took the elevator to the second floor. It was his first code blue at Woodhull, a public hospital in Williamsburg. But in Guatemala, where he had worked at a public hospital, San Juan De Dios, as part of his medical school training, he had responded to dozens of these alarms.
"But never with the right resources," Dr. Sanchez said. "There were no monitors or defibrillators on the floor. At least half the patients died."
In radiology, his patient, an African-American woman who had just had a heart attack, was surrounded by emergency department doctors and nurses. A tall physician with braids down her back was quietly overseeing everything. A doctor touched the patient's neck and said, "It's not a code blue — she has a pulse!"