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What you don’t know can’t hurt you

The strange truth about medicine and the brain is that they often interact in completely unpredictable ways. Nowhere is this truer than with the relatively obscure phenomenon known as the ‘nocebo effect’.

Most of us know about the placebo effect. Every clinical trial now randomly assigns patients to either a real drug or a placebo, in the form of an inert pill. The patient doesn’t know which they are taking, and even those taking the inert substance tend to show some improvement — thanks to their faith in the treatment.

Yet, alongside the benefits, people taking placebos often report puzzling side effects. The problem is that people in a clinical trial are given exactly the same health warnings whether they are taking the real drug or the placebo — and somehow, the expectation of the symptoms can produce physical manifestations, like nausea or pain, in some placebo takers.

Over the last 10 years, doctors have shown that this nocebo effect is very common — and it’s a dilemma for modern medicine. Doctors are obliged to be honest about a drug’s side effects but what if the information itself could make someone sicker?

If countering negative patient expectations can lead to better outcomes and a reduction in the number and severity of adverse events, then the mind - body connection is something we should not ignore. OSP is adept at creating patient education materials which address patients’ fears and anxieties. Get in touch to find out more about what we do.