The problem of overdiagnosis and overtreatment of diseases

Studies show people are receiving treatment for ailments which may never have serious implications on their health

By Aditya Misra
Published: Wednesday 17 September 2014


Two studies published in the medical journal BMJ on September 14 have highlighted the problem of overdiagnosis and overtreatment of diseases.

The first study says that people having hypertension are being treated even from mild forms of the ailment. About 40 per cent of adults in the world suffer from hypertension and more than half of these have a mild form of the ailment. This means they are at a low risk of getting cardiovascular diseases. But more than half of the people who suffer from mild forms of hypertension are being given drugs to lower their blood pressure. Studies are yet to conclusively prove that such medication can prevents cardiovascular diseases.

Mild hypertension can be controlled through lifestyle changes, such as physical exercise and cutting down alcohol consumption. But doctors do not rely on such methods because they do not feel comfortable basing treatment on such uncontrolled procedures, suggest the study.

“Overemphasis on drug treatment risks adverse effects, such as increased risk of falls, and misses opportunities to modify individual lifestyle choices and tackle lifestyle factors at a public health level,” says the study.

The second study says extending breast cancer screenings programmes to women aged more than 70 does not result in a fall in the number of cancers detected at an advanced stage. Instead, it results in a large proportion of women being overtreated because the women were more likely to die of causes other than tumours detected at an early stage. Population data from Statistics Netherlands on over 25,000 women aged between 70-75 diagnosed with breast cancer between 1995 and 2011 was used for the research.

The studies indicate that current screening guidelines result in treatment of ailments which may never have serious implications on an individual’s health.

Mild hypertension in people at low risk

Effect of implementation of the mass breast cancer screening programme in older women in the Netherlands: population based study

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