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The placebo effect

The placebo effect

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What is the Placebo Effect?

You may have heard the phrase several times, without actually knowing exactly what it means, but the concept of a placebo is simple, yet surprisingly effective. The word “placebo” is Latin, meaning “I please” and is used to describe a medicine that has no actual physical medicinal qualities. You may wonder, what is the point of that? But a placebo is usually given to a patient that believes they are actually consuming an active medicine that will cure them of their ailment. Incredibly, although what they are taking is actually nothing more than a sugar pill, many patients experience an improvement in symptoms. This, alongside other consequences is known as the Placebo Effect.

How Does it Work?

If you have ever heard of the phrase “mind over matter” you are some way to understanding how the placebo effect works. Placebos are not restricted to tablets and can involve the administration of infusions, inert tablets, sham acupuncture and various other forms of non-active medication and treatment. Research into placebos is still ongoing, but the neurological impact and physical changes introduced by taking a placebo have already been recorded:

• Changes in heart rate
• Altered blood pressure
• Measureable changes in brain activity

Placebo effects have been encountered in cases of patients with depression, fatigue and anxiety and even some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease have diminished after placebos have been administered. The research, although intriguing, is not definitive. Although many cases of physiological changes for the better have been reported, there are also several instances where people merely believe themselves to be better, yet no physical changes have actually taken place.

Word Play

Studies have shown that patients’ ailments can improve merely by being told by a professional that they will. For instance, a doctor saying “you’ll be fine in a few days” has been proven to assist with a patient’s recovery. What makes placebos and the studies surrounding them even more interesting is that research has shown that if a patient receives a real pain-killer without knowing it, they are less likely to benefit from it than if they are actually told they are taking it.

Deception or Medicine?

the placebo effectPlacebos concern people for numerous reasons: will you waste valuable time taking them when you could be taking something that could help with your condition? Who has the right to deceive a patient? Are the results of research concerning placebos actually valuable? These questions have been around as long as the placebos themselves, but many established medical organisations support their presence in the world of medicine.

Is there such a thing as a Placebo Effect?

Throughout the years, studies seem to agree on one main factor of the placebo effect: that it can assist with pain relief more than any other symptom. It appears perception has a lot to do with achieving the placebo effect and that although studies continue to research whether or not placebos have any actual physical impact, the psychological importance is perhaps a little more difficult to disprove. Yet, some studies have actually shown that placebo medicines impact on non-human patients too, such as dogs, which brings to the fore even more questions.

It’s a Miracle!

Some have compared the placebo effect to that of a Christian believing his ailments have been cured by Christ. Many scientists are in agreement that the cases are remarkably similar in the way that if someone truly believes a certain course of action (prayer, pilgrimage or taking medication) will cure them, then the power of positive thinking can be enough to alter their state, psychologically at least.

The placebo effect is certainly a very real phenomenon, but its exact cause and its ongoing usefullness is yet to be determined.



About Denise Morgan

About Denise Morgan

Denise has five years' experience writing for various web-based companies. During this time she has also contributed to magazine articles and brochures. In addition to writing, Denise is a gigging singer/songwriter and is proud to have featured on the first series of BBC One's The Voice UK, having been selected by the great Sir Tom Jones. Denise is mother to the most talented and ridiculously intelligent two year old that has ever been and ever will be (until she creates another one that is). This kind of hyperbole is restricted only to her progeny and is not a reflection of her usual writing styles... Denise and her son live in Manchester along with their five cats - yes that's right, five.

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