Index to "Fad" Diagnoses

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

What Is a "Fad" Diagnosis?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "fad" as "a fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period of time; a craze." At least 25 diagnostic labels classifiable as fads have been in vogue during the past fifty years. Some refer to actual disease (which the patients do not have), whereas others are not recognized by the scientific community. Some unscientific practitioners apply one or more of these diagnoses to almost every patient they see. In many cases, they use nonstandard laboratory tests to "diagnose" them and recommend "dietary supplements" or "detoxification" to treat them. In a few cases, the "diagnoses" have been concocted by marketers of dietary supplements or devices.

Not Scientifically Defined or Recognized

These alleged conditions differ greatly from those of medically recognized diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and coronary heart disease, each of which is associated with a clear-cut history, physical findings, and laboratory tests. With these, however, the range of symptoms is virtually endless and typically does not correlate with physical findings or science-based laboratory tests.

Scientifically Recognized But Inappropriately Diagnosed

These conditions are recognized as diseases but are said to be present when they are not. Some are common, whereas others are rare. Most can be appropriately diagnosed with the help of laboratory tests. However, some doctors base their diagnoses on inappropriate tests or do no testing.

Nonexistent Conditions Concocted By Product Marketers

Dubious Psychological Labels

Recipe for a New Fad Disease

  • Pick any symptoms—the more common the better.
  • Pick any disease—real or invented. (Real diseases have more potential for confusion because their existence can't be denied.)
  • Assign lots of symptoms to the disease.
  • Say that millions of undiagnosed people suffer from it.
  • Pick a few treatments. Including supplements will enable health food stores and chiropractors to get in on the action.
  • Promote your theories through books and talk shows.
  • Don't compete with other fad diseases. Say that yours predisposes people to the rest or vice versa.
  • Claim that the medical establishment, the drug companies, and the chemical industry are against you.
  • State that the medical profession is afraid of your competition or trying to protect its turf.
  • If challenged to prove your claims, say that you lack the money for research, that you are too busy getting sick people well, and that your clinical results speak for themselves.

This page was revised on July 3, 2014.