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The 'Nocebo' Effect: If You Think You'll Get Sick, You Will
Date:8/10/2012

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Aug. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Some patients will feel better after taking a medication even if the drug doesn't actually do anything to treat their condition. It's called the "placebo effect." But there's another side to the power of suggestion: Patients may develop symptoms and side effects purely because they've been told about them.

A new report analyzes the so-called "nocebo effect" and suggests that doctors learn how to better "exploit the power of words" for the benefit of patients. Patients themselves are crucial players, too, said study lead author Dr. Winfried Hauser, an associate professor of psychosomatic medicine at the Klinikum Saarbrucken in Germany.

"It is not only the power of the mostly unintentionally negative words of physicians and nurses, but also the power of negative expectations, negative experiences and fears of the patients," Hauser said.

The report, which recently appeared in the journal Deutsches Arzteblatt International, examines existing research about the nocebo effect and finds that scientists and doctors have spent very little time trying to understand it. About 2,200 studies have examined the placebo effect, but only a few dozen explored the nocebo effect.

In one study, researchers randomly divided 50 patients with chronic back pain into two groups: One was told that a leg-flexing test could boost their pain slightly, while the other was told that it wouldn't affect their pain. Those who were warned about pain reported actually having more pain and didn't perform as well on the test.

Research has also shown that people who think they might get a drug can develop its side effects even if it's not actually administered.

The words of doctors and nurses can affect patients negatively, too. "Patients are highly receptive to negative suggestion, particularly in situations perceived as existentially threatening, such
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