What's in a name? Plenty if it's a medical condition

January 23, 2009

Which is more serious: heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease? Though they are basically the same thing, the "medicalese" name distorts the perception of the condition as more serious, according to a recent study.

Which is more serious: heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease?

Though they are basically the same thing, the "medicalese" name distorts the perception of the condition as more serious, according to a study of college students published in December by PLoS ONE, a journal of the Public Library of Science.

Researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, gave 52 undergraduate students a list of "newly medicalized disorders," including impotence vs. erectile dysfunction disorder, seborrheic dermatitis vs. dandruff, and acrochorda vs. skin tags.

Students perceived established medical conditions, such as high blood pressure vs. hypertension, the same.

"These findings regarding the conceptualization of disease have implications for many areas, including medical communication with the public, advertising, and public policy," the researchers wrote.