Dec 13, 2009

The Power of Placebo Thinking

The word Placebo is Latin for "I shall please". First used in the medicinal context in the 18th century, it was defined as "any medicine adapted more to please than to benefit the patient."
The placebo effect is one the most intriguing processes in modern medicine - the healing power of a sham therapy with positive psychological inputs.  A wide variety of things can be placebos such as pills, creams, inhalants and injections using pharmacologically inert substances.  Ultrasound examination, sham surgery or sham electrodes implanted in the brain and even the treating physician fall under the category of controversially powerful placebos.  Most people can attest that the mere expectation of relief somehow makes you feel better.  In a recent study by University of Michigan participants who were told they would receive painkillers showed an increased production of endorphins, the brain's natural pain reliever, even through they got no analgesics at all.  Painkillers and anxiety reducing drugs that are given without a person's knowledge are less effective than when a patient is put on a placebo with an assurance that the drug will work.  the power of positive thinking and reinforcement is utilized in getting he desired effect of the placebo.  A patient's recovery can be increased by words that suggest that he would be better in a few days' as opposed to the negative connotations.   Prescribing a placebo is a choice that every doctor faces almost on a daily basis.  It may be to claim a particularly fussy patient or help in relieving the anxiety associated wi5th being in an alien environment, such as a hospital.  The most common placebos utilized the world over are antibiotics for viral infections and vitamins for fatigue.  Only one out of three people are affected by the use of placebos so it is impossible to determine whether they would work ahead of time. Placebos are whether they would work ahead  of time.  Placebos are impartial for long term usage, especially in chronic medical conditions.  In the hands of unscrupulous medical practitioners placebos are used to swindle unsuspecting patients with fake surgeries and sugar pills.  This gives rise to number of ethical issues abut the use of placebos as an effective method of treating disease. 
(By Dr. Sumaiya Syed Tariq---The writer is pursuing a post graduation at the Dow University of Health Sciences)