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

no relief.

The sham patients, on cue, grimaced when the pain-relieving button was not pushed and looked relaxed or neutral when it was pushed.

Real-time MRIs were used to track the doctors' own brain responses. When the doctors saw that the patients were in pain, there was more activation in a region that commonly becomes more active when feeling one's own pain or that of others, Jensen said. The region is known to be associated with empathy.

Conversely, when the doctors thought they were effectively "treating" the patient, the region of the brain known to be involved in the placebo response was activated.

Doctors who had scored high previously on their ability to view things from the patients' perspectives also were more likely to show activation in a region linked with reward, which is closely linked to the placebo-response area, Jensen said.

"Doctors activate their own brain regions for expectation of pain relief when they treat patients in pain," she concluded.

Whether the activation in the brain regions of the doctors is greater than that of a patient who is actually feeling the pain is not known from this study, Jensen said, but she hopes to study that in the future.

After the experiments, the doctors were told the patients were not real and offered a chance to withdraw. None did.

Although the study is a "good line of research," some of the findings might be explained simply by the basics of social interaction, noted Issidoros Sarinopoulos, assistant professor of radiology at Michigan State University. Sarinopoulos has also researched the topic.

"The doctor is expecting to see positive results," he pointed out, and "that may be why that part of the brain is activated."

Jensen agreed that social interaction could possibly intensify the effect, but would not explain it entirely.

Would the results play out in real life, when your doctor may not have ever had the condition you are complaining of?
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