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What Is Overtreatment?

By Patti Kate
Updated May 17, 2024
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Medical overtreatment generally refers to prescribing medications or medical procedures that may not be necessary for treating an illness, injury or disease. Patients who are exposed to excessive X-rays and radiation or undergo nonessential surgery may run the risk of being overtreated, as do those who take an excessive amount of medication, either by prescription or over the counter. Overtreatment may occur with traditional western medicine, or in holistic medicine. Since the degree of treatment required for a condition varies from person to person, some feel that the standards for overtreatment are subjective.

The principles of disproportionate treatment often suggest that it may do more harm than good for a patient to undergo certain procedures. For example, some medical experts theorize that performing exploratory or nonessential surgery may do this. There is also concern that overtreatment through nonessential surgery may result in complications that could affect a person for life.

Too much treatment with medications is believed to cause side effects in some people, which may include loss of muscle control, gastrointestinal upset, headaches or fatigue. Long-term use of certain medications may also cause psychological disturbances. These disturbances may include depression or suicidal tendencies. Some patients find that lowering a dosage of medication may reduce unfavorable side effects.

Overtreatment may also refer to nonessential testing that may expose the patient to radiation from laboratory procedures. A Computed Tomography (CT) is a scan that emits low levels of radiation, which may pose a potential health risk. Similarly, a patient who receives an excessive amount of X-rays may be overtreated.

There are also concerns about the overuse of antibiotics, claiming it may lead to the development of resistant strains of bacteria. Some say that dispensing antibiotics for casual and repeated use is overtreating the patient. In addition, some patients suffer ill effects such as nausea or vomiting from being overtreated with antibiotics.

Patients who suffer from medical conditions such as epilepsy are often prescribed medication. The drugs may be prescribed to control a patient's symptoms, such as seizures. While many patients do well when prescribed pharmacotherapy, over-prescription is sometimes an issue. Many physicians believe the way to prevent overtreatment of patients is by adjusting medication to individual needs.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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