A Disease By Any Other Name Would Still Be Really Impairing


Why is restless leg syndrome always the poster child for people who hate pharma advertising?  Both my fiance and I clearly have it, and you know what?  It's really not very much fun not being able to sleep, nor are the cramp-like sensations that accompany the uncontrollable urge to kick your legs.

While we're at it, hooray for the commercials which informed me of the existence of Ambien CR, because I have the sort of insomnia that frequently wakes me up at 4 am.  I had to browbeat a doctor--who said his patients were frequently groggy in the morning--into giving it to me.  Well, apparently my liver chews through Ambien like my dog goes through three pounds of prime dry-aged steak, because I feel great the morning after I've taken it.  I don't want to say Ambien CR is the best thing that ever happened to me.  But it's in the top twenty, maybe the top ten. 

If you've never had insomnia, it doesn't sound like a big problem.  I know, because I, always a champion sleeper, developed insomnia in my thirties--in my twenties, I used to make fun of a coworker who couldn't sleep.  But it turns out that not sleeping for weeks on end can really destroy your quality of life, which is why we're against doing it to prisoners at Guantanamo.

Here's something else that mystifies me:  the progressive derision for Viagra. Here's a group of people who are opposed to abstinence-only education on the grounds that it is simply not possible, or for that matter worthwhile, to persuade teenagers to keep it in their pants.   They go into convulsions every time a Catholic hospital refuses to dispense birth control, or pay for its employees to buy same.  So why the fixation on Viagra?  Sexual dysfunction may not be a disease, but it's still a problem.  Considering how vital most progressives seem to think healthy sexual functioning is to people in their prime reproductive years, you'd think they'd be happy that we can now help more people participate in this vital sphere of human life.  Instead, ED drugs are the poster children for Drugs Big Pharma Wasted A Ton of Money On Rather Than Developing Something Useful*. 

Well, we don't need birth control either--we could just decide to be celibate--but I don't hear so much complaining about the commercials for Seasonale or the HPV vaccine.

I take the point that we're "medicalizing" normal parts of the human condition.  But I'm not sure how useful that insight is.  Disease and early death is a normal part of the human condition, and thank God we've medicalized it!  I can live with a headache, so should I retire to a dark room rather than "medicalizing" my condition and taking an aspirin?

At the end of the day, whether or not these people have a medical condition, they still can't sleep or have sex.  Given that most of us are very fond of both, I'm not sure why we're writing off drugs to treat those problems as ephemeral frippery.

Actually, Viagra was a failed attempt to treat angina, which I think most of us recognize as a Certified Real Disease. 

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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