Would You Want to Know If You Had an Untreatable Disease?

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We always think a diagnosis is the first step to treatment, but can it actually be harmful? People who don’t know they have health problems rate their own health as good, but their self-image worsens when they’re aware of their diagnosis, according to a study published in the BMJ Open.

During the study, women who knew they had hypothyroidism were 48 percent less likely to report good health and self-image than women with undiagnosed hypothyroidism. Similar results were found in women with hypertension—undiagnosed women were 52 percent more likely to have a better outlook.

If you think about it, those numbers makes sense. (No one is happy to know they are sick, after all.) But sometimes, simply knowing what is going on with your health fast tracks your recovery. With many diseases—thyroid disease, diabetes, and many forms of cancer—early diagnosis is crucial, often life-saving. But in cases where the condition cannot be treated—like Huntington's Disease or in some cases, prostate cancer—being labeled can do more harm than good.

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“We've got data to show that depression and suicide increase in men who have an elevated PSA that merits an evaluation for prostate cancer—but levels do not increase in men who have prostate cancer,” says Otis Brawley M.D., chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

So, what should you do? Over-testing is common in hospitals and doctor’s offices across the country. So before screening for a disease that may have no cure or treatment, ask your doctor to outline the specific benefits of testing. Will it lead to treatment, or better your health? The more you know about the results you are going to get, the better equipped you’ll be to make a decision.

They say ignorance is bliss. Would you want to know if you had an untreatable disease? Leave your comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine.

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