Interesting Medical Information

Iatrogenic illness -- disease produced as a result of medical treatment -- is now recognized as a health hazard of global proportions. MEDLINE (the computerized medical research database of the United States National Library of Medicine) includes over 7,000 articles, reports, and scientific research papers since 1966 that show a substantial number of patients suffer treatment-caused disorders and adverse drug reactions.

"Reporting in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Lucien Leape of Harvard School of Public Health, has calculated that "180,000 people die in the U.S. each year partly as a result of iatrogenic injury, the equivalent of three jumbo-jet crashes every two days". In another issue, the Journal of the American Medical Association points out that injury from medical treatment in the U.S. "dwarfs the annual automobile accident mortality of 45,000 and accounts for more deaths than all other accidents combined".

(Journal of the American Medical Association. 1994; 272: 1851-1857. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1995; 274: 29-34.)

The hospital environment is especially conducive to medical hazards. Studies including those conducted at Harvard Medical School show that as many as 36% of patients admitted to hospitals suffered iatrogenic injury with up to 25% of those being serious or fatal. Up to half of these injuries were related to the use of medication.

(Annals of Internal Medicine. 1964; 60: 100-110. New England Journal of Medicine. 1981; 304: 638)

The results of an analysis of cardiac arrests at a teaching hospital found that 64% were preventable. Inappropriate use of drugs was the leading cause.

(Journal of the American Medical Association. 1991; 265: 2815-2820.)

15% of hospital days are devoted to the treatment of drug side effects.

(Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 1994.)

A 1998 report estimated that 106,000 Americans die each year as a result of adverse reactions to prescription medications. This figure represents three times the number of people killed by automobiles and is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Only heart disease, cancer, and stroke kill more Americans than adverse reactions to drugs. This staggering figure does not include drugs administered in error nor those taken as a suicide gesture.

If medication errors were included in this statistic, the death toll would probably be as high as 140,000 deaths per year. As a result of 39 separate studies nationwide, it was found that 3.2 out of every 1000 hospitalized patients die each year as the result of adverse reactions to prescription drugs in each and every hospital in this country.

Of the 106,000 people killed each year by an adverse reaction to a prescription drug, 43,000, or 41%, were initially admitted to the hospital because of the adverse drug reaction.The other 59%, or 63,000 patients, were hospitalized for some other cause but developed a fatal reaction to a prescription drug received while hospitalized.

(Montague, Peter. National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO. 1999. "Another Kind of Drug Problem". Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly" #632. January 7, 1999. [cited 2000 May 7])

Every medication, including those that are sold over the counter without a prescription, has an associated side effect. Commonly used drugs have been found to affect every system. Frequent reactions include skin rashes, nausea, headaches, dizziness, lethargy, diarrhea, and gastric bleeding. More severe reactions that can be fatal or severely debilitating include deafness, depression, abnormal heart rhythms, angina, bronchospasm, electrolyte disturbances, immune system dysfunction, serious blood disorders such as aplastic anemia, liver or kidney toxicity, Stevens-Johnson syndrome, or anaphylactic shock.

These occur in a statistically significant proportion of the population. Despite what is known about adverse drug effects, Dr. David Kessler, Chief of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, believes that "only 1% of all serious drug reactions are reported."

(US News and World Report. January 9, 1995: 49-54.)
The widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs cause over 3,300 deaths per year and 41,000 hospitalizations.
Overuse of antibiotics has produced resistant strains of formerly susceptible micro-organisms.

Studies also show substantial inappropriate and overuse of surgery, and continued use of outmoded operations. A U.S. Congress Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations into Unnecessary Surgery found that in one year, there were approximately two million unnecessary operations, responsible for more than 12,000 deaths, with an approximate cost wastage of $10 billion.

(USA Today. October 31, 1983.)

In addition, medical care is often based on much less scientific evidence than assumed and undergoes radical reversals. The editor of the British Medical Journal revealed that only 15% of all medical therapies have a scientific basis or have been demonstrated to be effective.

(British Medical Journal. 1991; 303: 798-799)

Drug related problems cost as much as $182 billion per year, put 8.8 million people in hospitals per year, kill as many as 198,000 people per year, and account for up to 28% of all hospital admissions.

(American Medical News, January 15, 1996, page 11)

In 1993, 1 out of every 131 outpatient deaths was from medication error. Patients must understand and be warned of the potential dangers of prescription drugs.

(Phillips DP, Chirstenfeld N, Glynn LM. Increases in US medication-error deaths between 1983 and 1993, Lancet 1998)

People who use aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDSs) have a hospitalization rate 5 times that of the general population. More than 20,000 people with bone/joint problems die each year because of NSAID-related gastrointestinal problems.

(Researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center)

Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) fight inflammation, fever, and pain by blocking the body's production of prostaglandins. But since they can also block the prostaglandins that keep the stomach lining healthy, they can cause stomach irritation and bleeding. NSAIDs bring relief to millions of people with arthritis and back pain, but although many are available without a prescription, they are perhaps the drugs most likely to cause side effects, from harmless heartburn to life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding, which puts more than 40,000 Americans in the hospital each year. (Harvard Men's Health Watch, January 1999)

Americans take an average of eighty million aspirin every day.

Overdoses of Tylenol or other products containing acetaminophen were the leading cause of acute liver failure at a large medical center in Dallas from 1992 to 1995, researchers are reporting in the first study in the United States to measure the incidence of the problem. Although uncommon, the condition is serious and potentially fatal. ( Oct 98)

The prestigious medical journal The Lancet had this to say about paracetamol (acetaminophen i.e.Tylenol) way back in 1995, "Paracetamol has been marketed as the safe alternative to aspirin, when there is a need for mild analgesia. However, there has been concern for some years about the adverse consequences of overdose with paracetamol, in particular liver damage. Liver damage is most unlikely if less than 150mg of paracetamol per kg of body weight has been ingested, but alcoholics, and children may suffer liver damage at lower doses. In addition, people taking prescribed doses over several days for persistent pain may be at risk of liver damage.

(Vale JA, 348: pp547-552)
The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, found that regular use of all the major types of over-the-counter painkillers (aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen) could raise the chance of developing renal cell carcinoma, which accounts for the vast majority of kidney cancer cases.