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Diagnosis could make parents want to medicate baby, study says

April 03, 2013|By Mary MacVean
  • Study says diagnosing symptoms could increase parents' interest in medication.
Study says diagnosing symptoms could increase parents' interest… (Getty Images )

Living with a baby who vomits and cries all the time can make a parent worried (yes, I know this first-hand).  If a doctor diagnoses a problem, and there’s medication to treat that problem, it’s easy to understand why parents might eagerly accept it.

But it turns out, according to a study this week in the journal Pediatrics, that use of the diagnosis gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called GERD – rather than just talking about the symptoms -- could drive overtreatment of infants.

The researchers presented hypothetical situations to 175 parents who came to a clinic in Michigan in 2011-12; 66% of the parents had at least a bachelor’s degree.

Some parents were told their baby had GERD and that existing medications were likely ineffective. Others were not given a specific diagnosis or were not told anything about the effectiveness of medication.

In the situation in which an infant was diagnosed, the parents wanted medication even when told it probably would not do anything. “Labeling an otherwise healthy infant as having a ‘disease’ increased parents’ interest in medicating their infant,” the researchers, from the University of Michigan and other institutions, said.

The hypothetical included the information that the baby was otherwise healthy and gaining an appropriate amount of weight. Parents were also told the child would likely outgrow the symptoms.

The GERD label “may promote overtreatment by causing people to believe that ineffective medications are both useful and necessary,” the researchers wrote.

From 1999 to 2004, there has been a sevenfold increase in the use of prescription medication for GERD for children younger than 1 year, the study said.

Among the factors that might lead to medicating these symptoms, the researchers said, include the ease of using medicine as opposed to behavioral interventions; tests for GERD are invasive.

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