Savvy consumers have learned over the years that the primary goal of marketing is to create demand for a product or service. This has risen to the point of inventing problems that do not really exist just to sell a product that addresses the fake problem. Who knew that my social status could be destroyed by spotty glassware.
Better yet, if you can make people worry about a nonexistent problem, something that they were not previously aware of and don’t understand, they might buy your solution just to relieve their worry.
This type of “artificial demand” marketing can be very insidious when it occurs with medical products and services. The pharmaceutical industry has been accused of generating artificial demand for some of their drugs. For example, osteopenia is a relative decrease in bone density, but not enough to qualify for osteoporosis. Osteopenia is not really a disease, or even necessarily a mild version of osteoporosis, although it is a risk factor. Merck, however, was happy to broaden the market for its drug for osteoporosis and argue that patients with osteopenia should be treated also, even though the evidence really did not support this.
Sometimes the accusations are flat-out wrong. GSK has been accused of inventing restless leg syndrome (RLS) to sell a failed Parkinson’s drug. In fact the drugs used for RLS are successful Parkinson’s drugs. Further, I found references to RLS in neurology texts going back over 50 years, and there were even older references although not using the same name.
I don’t think the pharmaceutical industry invents new diseases. It seems that they do try to extend the market for their drugs into milder and milder indications, spreading into the gray zone of evidence, but they don’t get to invent their own diseases.
Those who practice medicine outside the constraints imposed by science (and ethics), however, are not above inventing imaginary diseases and conditions out of whole cloth.
One popular fake illness is chronic candidiasis. Candida albicans is a fungus that colonizes about 90% of the population (meaning it is present in the body but not causing an infection or any problems). It can, however, become an infection, usually at times of stress or immunocompromise. The most common manifestations are thrush (a superficial Candida infection in the mouth) and vaginitis, also commonly referred to as a yeast infection.
Candida can also rarely cause serious systemic infection, but this is mostly restricted to those with compromised immune systems, such as patients undergoing chemotherapy or with advanced AIDS.
Candida became the focus of a fake illness beginning in 1986 with the publication of . . .
- Candida and Fake Illnesses (sciencebasedmedicine.org)