Positive and negative effects of the mind in pain relief

Published on 18 February 2011

A new study, published in Science Translational Medicine, has shown that the benefits of painkillers can by manipulated by expectation.

In an experiment conducted on 22 patients, after connection to an IV drip, heat was applied to their legs and they were asked to describe the level of pain on a scale of 1 to 100. An average pain rating of 66 was described by the subjects, who were then given remifentanil without their knowledge - the average pain score reducing to 55.

In the next test they were told they were receiving the pain killer and the average score reduced further, down to 39. Then, without any change in the dose being received, patients were told that the painkiller had been withdrawn and that they should expect pain. The average score increased to 64, almost exactly equivalent to the average score when they were getting no drugs at all.

The study, added to already established evidence of the well known placebo effect, further demonstrates the effect of the mind and expectation on outcomes of therapy and treatment and may have an impact on current clinical trial practices which don't take patient expectation into account.

Further information on this story
BBC - Negative experiences can stop painkillers

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