Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Placebo Effect

Brown, W.A. (January 1998). The Placebo Effect, Scientific American, p. 90-95.

The placebo effect, where the very act of undergoing treatment helps the patient to recover, has been known for some time. However, its neural correlates still remain elusive. A wide range of afflictions seem to respond to placebo, especially those in which stress directly affects the symptoms. Animal and human studies have shown that the functioning of the immune system falters under stressful conditions, stymied by release of the stress hormone cortisol. Therefore, reducing fear and anxiety by restoring some sense of control might help to prevent exacerbation of symptoms.

To practitioners, the article recommends a good bedside manner, a proper diagnosis and prognosis, and presentation of different treatment options for the patient to choose from whenever possible. While the author believes every effort should be made to understand and harness this powerful phenomena to affect treatment outcomes, he cautions doctors against prescribing placebos deceptively on ethical grounds.

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