Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Migraine Headaches and the Remarkable Power of Placebos


A new study finds that the placebo effect is just as powerful as a popular pill in treating migraines. How can doctors use that to help us feel better?

It's one of our most powerful medical treatments, and certainly our most widely-effective. In recent years, it's been found to help treat or reduce the symptoms of clinical depression, irritable bowel syndrome, panic attacks, coughing, ADHD, restless leg syndrome and erectile dysfunction, among other conditions.  

The latest study to demonstrate its remarkable effectiveness was published today in Science Translational Medicine. In it, the treatment was administered to people who chronically suffer from migraine headaches and found to be just as effective as rizatriptan, one of the most widely-used migraine drugs. 

This name of this wonderful treatment? It's the placebo effect, the remarkable power of the human brain to unconsciously influence the functioning and perception of the body. 

The term was first used sometime during the 1700s (it's Latin for "I shall please"), but the concept itself dates back centuries. Historically, doctors believed that one of their key duties, in addition to curing a patient, was to console him or her, providing a morale boost that could help them to get better faster—sometimes in the form of a dummy medicine that had no effect beyond instilling the expectation of improvement in the patient's brain. 

It's now widely recognized that, while largely ineffective in improving objective symptoms (like high blood pressure or an infection, for instance), placebos are genuinely effective in treating subjective, self-reported symptoms, including all sorts of pain. Placebos can take all sorts of forms: inert sugar pills, sham surgeries and saline injections. 

Of course, none of this implies that people who report relief from a placebo are "faking" their conditions or pain—far from it. They, like all of us, are simply subject to the same surprising mechanisms that allow our brain's expectations to alter how we perceive our body and health.

For the rest of the story: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/migraine-headaches-and-remarkable-power-placebos-180949284/

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