The Nocebo Effect and Pain Management

The Nocebo Effect and Pain Management

May 16, 2017

There’s an excellent reason some doctors don’t warn their patients about medication side effects. When you expect negative symptoms, you’re more likely to experience them, a phenomenon known as the nocebo effect.

When researchers used fMRI to uncover the physiology behind this tendency, they found that no less than 12 regions of the brain were involved. Everything from the rational prefrontal cortex to the more emotional temporal gyrus responded to health expectations. The brain is a powerful and mysterious organ, capable of changing how you experience your body. Expect pain, and you’re likely to feel it. Expect nausea, and your brain will make it happen, too.

Medical trials frequently suffer under the weight of the nocebo effect. 11% of placebo takers dropped out of a fibromyalgia study due to perceived side effects. 26% of the control group in a lactose intolerance trial suffered gastrointestinal symptoms. Getting beyond the nocebo effect is no easy task. If you’re a suggestible person, you’re likely to experience it at least once, and your healthcare worker is the best tool you have for combating it.

The Power of Words

Even the most sensitive healthcare workers can trigger a nocebo effect, so the only way over the hurdle is through awareness. Secret-keeping is not a solution. Your physician must understand the power of words, which can increase reports of bad reactions by as much as 2000 times.

JAMA nocebo researcher, Ulrike Bingel has found that clear and thorough communication is the best tool to overcome false adverse effects. Your physician should describe your drug’s effects and their likelihood clearly, without jargon. Doctors at Pain Stop Clinics remain aware of the power of the mind so that they can better guide patients away from their fears with active listening, sensitivity, and realistic hope.

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