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What’s in a Name? Real Diseases Suffer from Silly Name Syndrome

By Nina Bai
Dec 19, 2008 2:35 AMJun 28, 2023 3:06 PM


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The superabundance of online medical information and direct-to-consumer drug ads on TV can be enough to stir the hypochondriac in all of us. But some legitimate (despite their skeptics) conditions, and the people who suffer from them, just can't seem to get any respect. Looking at this list, we think part of the problem might be the you-can't-be-serious quality of some of the names. Here‘s a few examples of “illnesses” that could really benefit from a name change: Restless Leg Syndrome "The first time I saw a TV commercial about Restless Legs Syndrome, I was pretty sure it was a spoof. I figured I had stumbled across a prime-time Saturday Night Live special and was seeing a well-done fake ad," wrote Stephen Dubner on the Freakonomics Blog. RLS sufferers report tingling, burning, or numbing sensations in their legs that create an overwhelming need to move them. Trying to relax or keep the legs still only makes the symptoms worse. Though the cause of the RLS is unknown, experts estimate as many as 12 million Americans may have the condition. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Do the long winter months make you just sad? Or SAD? Sufferers can experience debilitating hopelessness and depression along with sleep and appetite changes that may be linked to lack of sunlight. Happily, many cases can be alleviated by light therapy (the glow of your computer screen doesn't count). The National Mental Health Association estimates that half a million Americans suffer from SAD—though the ailment is especially hard to take seriously since nearly everyone not living on the equator can experience some version of the winter blues. Tennis Elbow Despite what the name would suggest, this affliction doesn't just strike those who've been spending too much time at the country club. Inflammation or tears to the tendons in the outer part of the elbow can be caused by any number of repetitive activities, including non-bourgy ones like raking leaves or turning a screwdriver. Still, the word “tennis” is enough to wipe out any possibility of sympathy for your pain. Irritable Bowel Syndrome It's almost hard to complain about this one since it's already a step up from the condition’s alternative name: Spastic Colon. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, cramps, and spasms. Some researchers suspect it may be caused by a problem with the so-called "intestinal pacemaker," special cells that trigger contractions of the gut. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Also known as the "Yuppie Flu," CFS was once thought to affect only the upper class. Patients are diagnosed with this condition after at least six months of continuous severe fatigue along with muscle and joint pain that has no other medical explanation. The causes of the “disease” are unknown, but some research suggests it could be caused by a viral infection or an immune disorder. The jury is still out on whether some of these are real "diseases" or not. But while medical research progresses, it doesn't help that drug companies take advantage of the unknowns to make vague, fear-mongering drugs ads that could convince anyone they're not well. All the hype only makes life harder for those truly suffering from a disease with a funny name. Related Content: DISCOVER: The Real Dr. House DISCOVER: What's Wrong With American Medicine Image: iStockphoto

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