The Power of placebo – the facts
1. The placebo effect – when a patient feels better despite taking a medicine with no active ingredient – can be surprisingly strong.
2. One study even found patients with irritable bowel syndrome reported improvements despite knowing they were taking a dummy pill.
3. It’s not just pills, fake acupuncture has been shown to reduce the severity of headaches and migraines.
The effect is based on the patient’s expectation of a cure and seems to work best for subjective measures such as pain. The size, colour, and branding of placebo treatments have all been shown to influence ‘effectiveness’.
The placebo is the backbone of medical research enabling doctors to distinguish between real and expected or perceived effects of treatment. However when it comes to their use in general medicine some believe their use can damage the doctor-patient relationship.
The question is whether the patient minds as long as they have their ‘cure’.
Dr Clare Gerada, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said it was perfectly acceptable to use a placebo as long as it did not cause harm and was not expensive.
“If you think about it, a kiss on the cheek when you fall over is a placebo too”
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