Patients worry more when conditions are described in medical terms

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Dec. 29, 2008

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A health issue is considered more serious and less common if it is described in technical rather than lay language, according to a study in the December 2008 Public Library of Science: ONE.

"A simple switch in terminology can result in a real bias in perception," said Meredith Young, lead author and a graduate student in psychology, neuroscience and behavior at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Researchers asked 52 undergraduate students to evaluate various words describing established and newly medicalized conditions. Terms such as "hyperhidrosis," "androgenic alopecia" and "myalgic encephalopathy" were viewed as much more serious and rare than the more common condition descriptors: "excessive sweating," "male pattern baldness" or "chronic fatigue syndrome."

For more established medical disorders such as high blood pressure or sore throat, no difference in perception existed between using those terms or the more scientific counterparts, "hypertension" or "pharyngitis."

The authors say this finding has implications for the way health issues are communicated to the general public.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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