The Placebo Effect With Real Treatments
Although placebos are typically associated with fake medical treatments, the placebo effect also comes into effect in the use of real medications.
Researchers from the University of Rochester were able to use the placebo effect to reduce the amount of steroid medications required by psoriasis patients. The researchers successfully cut the amount of steroids required down to one half or even one quarter the regular dose while preserving the medicine’s benefits. The researchers believe that because the psoriasis patients associated the treatment with relief from symptoms that their mindset contributed to the overall healing effectiveness of the medication.
On a related note, in a 2010 medical research review from the University of Sydney researchers found that for many patients who received actual medications, the effectiveness of the medication varied depending on how the drug was administered. Patients who received the drug through an automated pump responded less well than patients who received the same dose of drug directly from their doctor. This suggests that an important part of the placebo benefit is our interaction that we have with our doctors in the treatment process.
The Placebo Effect Among Informed Patients
While the placebo effect has long been associated with doctors hiding some information from patients, this is not proving to be a requirement for placebos to work.
In a study performed at Harvard University in 2010, researchers compared the differences in effectiveness between treating patients secretly with a placebo or letting patients know that they were being given a placebo. What they found was that those patients who knew they were being given placebo reported 30% better rankings on their personal assessment of disease symptoms. Even more impressive, over the weeks of taking the placebo treatment, the rankings continued to rise indicating that patients were feeling increasingly better.
What this means is that the placebo effect is beneficial even to patients who know that the treatment itself has no direct effect on the disease. It also undermines the long held belief that the placebo effect occurs simply because of positive thinking in patients who believe that they are getting a real drug.
Further to these results, the previously mentioned review from the University of Sydney also concluded that an actual placebo or fake treatment is not even required to obtain the health benefits associated with the placebo effect. For many patients, simply having their medical concerns considered, recognized and monitored is enough to promote the same health benefits as the placebo effect.
Although the “placebo effect” has long been associated with the idea of a patient’s personal belief in a worthless medical treatment, the last decade has shown that the placebo effect is more complicated and more real than that. The placebo effect changes the real results of treatment meaning that it is a treatment itself. What this means for patients with chronic illness is that having a meaningful relationship with your doctor is far more important than just having someone who sends you for tests or prescribes medication.
Have you experienced the benefits of the placebo effect? Do you believe that the placebo effect is real? Share your thoughts in the general health discussion forums.
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