Understanding The Placebo Effect

March 22, 2023

Most individuals have heard the terms ‘placebo’ and ‘placebo effect’ regarding the medical industry before, often specifically referring to medication. But what exactly do these terms mean and what impact do they have on the various treatments and medications patients undergo to maintain or return to healthy bodies? This is something many individuals may vaguely understand, but not entirely. However, truly understanding what the placebo effect is, is quite important when it comes to ensuring effective medical treatment, both for doctors as well as patients.

Start reading now to dive into what a placebo is, how they’re used in medicine, and whether or not the placebo effect is real.

Defining Placebo

When most individuals think of a placebo, they often think of sugar pills. While this may be the most common form, placebos can also be injections, liquids, or even an actual medical procedure. What remains the same throughout all of this, however, is a placebo is meant to look just like a treatment or medicine, but in reality is not. It is merely a look-alike. One popular example is a twenty-eight-day package of birth control pills. Typically, twenty-one of the pills will have active medication in them, whereas the remaining seven are just placebo or sugar pills. A significant reason behind the sugar pills is to help ensure the woman never forgets to take the active pills (meaning, no break in taking pills) while allowing her body to run through the regular cycle.

Continue reading to learn about how placebos are used in medical research and clinical trials.

Placebos In Medical Research And Trials

Placebos are often used in clinical trials for new medications and other treatments. The first stage, of course, is studying and developing a new treatment in the lab before testing on real volunteer patients. Should the lab results indicate the treatment is likely to work, it then moves on, sometimes to animals first, and then to humans. The medical researchers want to determine if the new treatment works, if it is better than current treatments, if the potential benefits outweigh the risks, what the side effects are, as well as what patient groups are likely to find the new treatment helpful.

If there is a standard treatment already available, the clinical trial often uses it as a control group to determine effectiveness. If there is no other treatment or medication available, researchers will typically use a placebo as a control group while others receive the new treatment to ensure any effects they have are the result of the treatment, rather than another factor.

Continue reading to learn more about the role of placebos in clinical trials.

Placebos In Clinical Trials Continued

All patients in a clinical trial must be informed there is a chance they could be in the group receiving the placebo. However, they will not know if they are receiving the placebo as no one is supposed to reveal this information, and the placebo itself mimics the real treatment in looks, taste, as well as feel. In some instances, the doctors will not even know who is in the control group until the results come in, and this is called a double-blind controlled study. This helps mitigate expectations, though it is typically used in studies where patient reporting is key, such as for symptoms of insomnia or depression, instead of for medication with objective measures, such as when treating cancer. When it comes down to it, the blind portion of placebos is intended to avoid biases as well as the previously mentioned expectation mitigation.

Continue reading to reveal exactly what the placebo effect is.

What Is The Placebo Effect?

Since placebos are not the actual treatment, they do not act on the condition or disease itself. However, the placebo effect refers to the influence of placebos over the way a patient feels and any change in an individual’s symptoms, both positive and negative, qualifies as the placebo effect. Some of the negative symptoms the placebo effect can cause include headaches, nausea, or constipation. In most instances, the placebo effect only lasts for a short period. Many researchers believe the placebo effect is related to the human body’s natural ability to relieve pain and other symptoms temporarily.

Continue reading to discover how expectation and confidence affect how the placebo effect works.

Expectation And Confidence

The placebo effect often stems out of expectation, meaning if a patient expects to feel better, their chances increase, or if they believe they are receiving a strong medication or are quite worried about side effects, the placebo is more likely to result in these side effects. However, the effect still does not directly cause these changes.

Another way in which the placebo effect occurs is through confidence. For instance, some patients may experience alleviated symptoms by just going to the doctor, even if pills, shots, or a procedure is not involved. Their symptoms improve simply because the act of going to the doctor makes them feel as if they are doing something to help! For this form of the placebo effect to occur, the patient in question typically must display a good deal of confidence in the doctor they are going to see and must believe in them.

Although the placebo effect does not directly cure any condition, the chance for alleviated symptoms can still be incredibly beneficial, and it truly does help to ensure new medications are as effective as possible.

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