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Brain Scan Study Suggests Docs 'Feel' Your Pain
Date:1/29/2013

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Some doctors may really "feel" a patient's pain -- and also experience relief after they've given the patient treatment, new research suggests.

In the new study, scientists scanned the brains of doctors as they believed they were offering patients pain-relieving therapy.

The more empathetic the doctor, the more brain activation the researchers found.

"It's the doctor side of the placebo effect," said researcher Ted Kaptchuk, director of the Program in Placebo Studies and Therapeutic Encounter at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

"Not only do doctors mirror their patient's own pain, but when doctors are relieving the pain of their patient, they will also activate their own expectations of pain relief regions of their brain," added study co-author Karin Jensen, an investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital's Martinos Center for Biological Imaging. She also works with Kaptchuk in the placebo studies program.

Eighteen doctors from nine medical specialties participated in the study. The "patients" were two 25-year-old women who -- unknown to the doctors -- were only pretending to have pain that needed treatment.

To add to the illusion, the researchers first gave the doctors a mild dose of "heat pain" administered to their forearms, and then showed them how the device they were using on the patients could ease their discomfort.

Next, the doctors met with the patients to conduct a typical 20-minute exam. The researchers said this was aimed at building a rapport between physician and patient.

The patients were then seated next to the scanner, where doctors could see them through a mirror. Following instructions, the doctor used a remote control to push a button they thought would activate the device and relieve the patient's pain or to push a button they thought provided
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