5 Common Medical Procedures That Secretly Aren't Worth It
A thousand years ago, consulting a doctor about abdominal pains would have earned you a week in bed, covered with leeches, while a shaman sprayed chicken blood all over your torso. These days it seems to most of us that medical science has advanced a little since then.
Well, we hate to break it to you, but many of the common procedures in use today are about as useful, if not more dangerous, than that bucket of leeches from ages past.
CT scans are what doctors describe to stupid people as "super X-rays." Prior to the CT scan, if you thought something funky was going on inside you and nothing showed up on an X-ray, your only option was to pretty much let a doctor slice you open and poke around in there. With the magic of CT scans, all sorts of things became much easier to see, including brain hemorrhages, heart disease and dinosaur fossils.
"Ma'am, it appears your arteries are clogged with Velociraptors. There's nothing we can do."
So what's the problem?
In addition to providing a window into your body, CT scans deal a superhero-inducing dose of radiation. But rather than letting you shoot webs or adamantium claws out of your hands, the ability it gives you is the power of cancer.
See, each CT scan shoots you with hundreds of times the level of radiation that you get from an X-ray, and some experts now think that one in 50 cases of future cancer will have been caused by all these CT scans.
Like this, if it was followed by months of chemo and a broken family instead of super-powered high jinks.
Of course, these days, we also have the MRI scan, which is not only superior in every diagnostic sense but has the added benefit of being completely harmless and radiation-free. So hospitals are rapidly switching over, right? Oh no, wait -- CT scans per year in America have shot up to around 62 million and it's estimated that 30 percent of them are completely unnecessary for making a diagnosis.
Why does this go on? We'll give you one guess.
That's right, money. CT scans are extremely profitable, and it's next to impossible for an insurance company to refuse to pay if the doctor insists he needs the scan to be sure of the diagnosis. Remember, these days the doctor may work for the same hospital profiting from the scan, or the doctor may even buy a CT scanner for the office and use it as a money-printing machine. You've got a mild case of the sniffles? Better order a CT scan, just to be safe.
"Sir, our preliminary tests indicate that you have way too much money."
In fact, there are quite a startling number of expensive/profitable procedures that are not only more dangerous, but also less effective than cheaper alternatives. The hysterectomy is one -- though it's estimated that 40 percent of women over 45 have gotten one, many are unaware that there's a procedure called embolization that cures many of the same problems and doesn't involve ripping out your lady-parts. Unfortunately, it rakes in much less money for the hospital.
To be fair, it's not all about greed. For instance, often patients demand CT scans, not because they know anything about them, but simply because that's what House would do. The doctor then takes a "better safe than sorry" attitude because he faces the risk of a lawsuit in the odd case in which something was in fact wrong and a scan would have caught it. So why not just do the scan?
And why not start a box-a-day cigar habit?
Oh, right. Cancer.
They're by far the most common reason people go to the doctor. You turn, you cough, the doctor fondles your balls for a few seconds. Maybe he takes some blood. Then you get out of there with another year of health in front of you. They're probably the most known and accepted staple of Western medicine, with 64 million of them performed per year.
"That bra looks infected. I'll have to remove it."
So what's the problem?
Routine physical examinations first caught on in the 1920s, when it was discovered that people who got yearly exams tended to live longer.
Can you guess who chooses to get a yearly physical?
Unfortunately, this is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation. The kinds of people who like to keep up-to-date with their physical exams are the same kinds of people who focus on keeping a healthier lifestyle in general.
As it turns out, physical exams provide no real benefit if you don't have any actual symptoms of anything, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Most of the time, you'll know that there's something wrong with you long before a doctor can detect it by cupping your balls.
Still, the physical exam is the bread and butter of the medical industry. Depending on your personal level of hypochondria, you can sign up for anything from a $5,000 Executive Special to your regular $120 McCheckup. All secure a steady income for doctors, and all are almost entirely pointless.
"MWA HA HA!"- The American Medical Association.
But just because it doesn't do any good, that doesn't mean it does any harm, right?
Well, first of all, the pricier examinations will usually involve plenty of those cancer-inducing CT scans. But then let's say that they do come back showing something suspicious. This leads to more expensive and invasive tests that often show that there was nothing wrong to begin with. The human body is actually full of things that look like tumors on a scan result, but if none of them are growing tentacles and slithering around your arteries, investigating every one of them just subjects you to unnecessary scalpel-stabbing.
Then again, what if the tests come back negative? Isn't the peace of mind worth it? Again, not so much. Apparently, this lulls people into a false sense of security, and they walk away feeling totally healthy. As we've pointed out, tons of terrible diseases can't be detected until they become symptomatic. But when symptoms of an actual disease do show up, people who get physicals are less likely to get these symptoms checked out, thinking that a "clean bill of health" is synonymous with "Wolverine-like powers of bodily fortitude."
Yet doctors keep doing them, often just to get us to shut the fuck up. They say that it's usually quicker to just run some tests than to take the time to explain why they're not necessary. Insurers, in turn, cover them only because we whine and bitch about wanting them. And all these quick bucks add up to over $7 billion per year. That's enough money to buy 23 McDoubles for every man, woman and child in the USA.
This is what our ignorance costs us, America.
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Circumcision is actually one of the oldest medical procedures in human history, coming into vogue around 25,000 years ago somewhere in Egypt. Ironically, despite its endurance, a lot of people still don't have a clear idea about why we're doing it, except maybe that it has something to do with Jews. Half of us men here in the West have had our dicks nipped and tucked and, aside from a very vocal few, haven't given it a second thought.
This is a family circumcision set from the 18th century. It includes a "spice vessel." People from the past are fucking crazy as birds.
So what's the problem?
It's completely inconclusive, though a lot of proud and uncut stallions will try vehemently to convince you otherwise.
The practice was popularized in recent times by, no kidding, cereal magnate John Harvey Kellogg. In addition to making breakfast fun, he embarked upon a crusade to eliminate the evil of masturbation through the two-pronged approach of feeding young boys Kellogg's Corn Flakes and chopping parts of their dicks off without anesthetic. Absolutely none of this is made up.
This is the face of a man who hasn't had a single good blowjob in all his life.
Today, the pro-circumcision camp says the procedure can lower the risk of things like penile cancer and decrease the chances of getting HIV, but on the other hand, you have rare-but-documented botched procedures that can result in death, or even worse, loss of the penis.
But overall, despite the popularity of the procedure, there isn't a single medical authority anywhere that will recommend it. Not because of any overwhelming negative side effects, but simply because it's a completely pointless medical procedure that just kind of caught on, like skintight jeans. It's medically comparable to removing a male baby's nipples at birth -- sure, they're useless, but all things considered, why add expense and/or risk if you don't have to?
For the sweet pleasures of conformity, of course.
Nowadays, cesarean sections are a standard medical procedure and keep us from living in the age where having a baby was like playing Russian roulette with your vaginal canal. It used to be that any sort of birthing complication commonly resulted in the death of the mother, but today if anything goes wrong during the delivery of a baby, doctors are ready to quickly cut the bastard out. If it weren't for C-sections, there'd be a whole lot more single dads.
"Another pallet-load of Hot Pockets will keep my depression in check."
So what's the problem?
Lately there has been a staggering increase in the number of women getting C-sections. Sure, a lot of these are totally necessary and life-saving, but a lot of them are not. The World Health Organization recommends a C-section rate of around 15 percent, but here in America it's twice that. And we're not even the worst offenders. Brazil can't get enough of them -- in some hospitals, 80 percent of babies are born by way of the blade.
It turns out that a growing number of C-sections are being ordered by patients just for the sake of convenience. Louise Silverton of the Royal College of Midwives (which has got to have the worst college parties ever) says that women are frankly terrified by the prospect of having to squeeze a watermelon through a garden hose, especially if the alternative involves a truckload of sedatives, some scented candles and Huey Lewis and the News.
Vaginas, start your clenching.
What's more, in the era of working moms, many women are getting C-sections just so they can schedule the birth in advance, taking the decision away from the baby, who doesn't know jack shit about running a tight ship.
"I've scheduled your next installment of 'childhood' for Q3 2013. For now, I need you working the Jenkins account."
Then again, who are we to say what women should or shouldn't do with their bodies? Even if they're aware that C-sections carry an increased risk of death or injury to both mother and baby? Sure, but also consider that women are often being pressured into having C-sections by their doctors. And surprise! The motivation for the pressure seems to be money.
Recommending a natural birth is just a lawsuit waiting to happen if something goes awry. But more troubling is that profit-making hospitals are far more likely to perform C-sections than non profit hospitals, even when serving similar populations. C-sections free up beds a lot quicker, and converting a vaginal birth to a surgical one adds a sweet $1,000 of profit.
Seriously, how many more pictures like this could we possibly have?
The discovery of penicillin has gone down as one of the greatest achievements in the history of medical science, and since then, we've been able to cure countless diseases that we used to treat just by sending sufferers to a "sanatorium," which was sort of a hotel where you waited to die. Antibiotics, which have only really come into heavy use within the last 100 years or so, have made us a healthier, happier human race. Surely there's nothing bad we can say about this medical godsend ... right?
Penicillin: Making bad decisions easier.
So what's the problem?
The problem is that antibiotics are incredibly overused -- one study found that as many as 80 percent of prescriptions for fluoroquinolones (a common antibiotic used for things like bronchitis) are unnecessary. Part of the reason for the overuse is that so many of these antibiotics are given to people with viral infections. Those of us who listened in high school biology know that trying to fight a virus with something that only kills bacteria is like trying to fight a puma with a fog machine. It doesn't work, and it doesn't make any goddamn sense.
"Oh God, it's not even slowing down!"
Sometimes doctors aren't sure if the infection is bacterial or viral, and are just playing it safe, but often they're well aware that they're basically prescribing an expensive placebo. They often give antibiotic prescriptions for stuff like the common cold virus because we're whiny morons who don't understand the difference, and it's just the quickest way to shut us up so they can attend to someone having a Code Blue. The problem is then exacerbated by the fact that colds and flus typically get better on their own, but we attribute the recovery to the truckload of antibiotics that were really no more effective than the voodoo exorcism we attempted.
But the risks of throwing around antibiotics like confetti may far outweigh your peace of mind. About 70,000 people get rushed to the ER per year for side effects caused by unnecessarily prescribed antibiotics, including diarrhea, yeasty vagina and good old-fashioned permanent hearing loss. Even if you're not that unlucky, it's still a bad idea to take antibiotics flippantly -- your body builds up a resistance to them, so when you get a real bacterial infection down the track, you're going to find that antibiotics are now useless to you. Good work, body.
Pro Tip: Huffing ether makes the common cold way less sucky.
This story gets much, much worse, thanks to, of all people, that bastard Charles Darwin. See, due to natural selection, when you bombard your body with antibiotics, the only bacteria that survive are those that have learned how to beat the system -- and those are the bugs that get to escape back into the world. The more antibiotics you take, the faster the process happens. The result is that an increasing number of people are dying from infections like tuberculosis because we've gone and turned it into super-tuberculosis.
Because of this, our current antibiotics will eventually be completely useless for anything. When this happens, transplant surgery will be nearly impossible, appendectomies will be incredibly risky and gonorrhea will get a whole lot nastier. Experts predict we might suffer the fate of the aliens at the end of War of the Worlds as soon as a couple of generations from now. So maybe, the next time you come down with a case of the sniffles, you should drink lots of fluids and harden the fuck up.
Answer: At least a dozen.
You can learn about, contact and observe Colin at www.colinelzie.com.
For more medical insight from the doctors at Cracked, check out The 7 Most Pointlessly Horrifying Plastic Surgery Procedures and The 10 Most Insane Medical Practices in History.
And stop by Linkstorm to discover why eating all that peanut butter is not good for pooping.
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