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Placebo Effect-A Myth or Reality?

As per the report of psychologist Bruno Klopfer published in 1957- Mr.Wrigt was apparently living the last days of his life in a hospital dying of lymph node cancer. Tumours had affected the neck, groin, abdomen and the chest and doctors had already exhausted their available options. But, Mr.Wright believed that the anticancer drug-Krebiozen would rid him of his cancer. The doctors injected the drug and to their amazement found that Mr.Wright’s tumours were cut down to half the size in 3 days and was discharged in 10 days.

Encouraged by Mr.Wright’s progress, the doctors administered Krebiozen to other patients only to find that there was no improvement whatsoever.

So, was the improvement perceived by Mr.Wright or was it actual? The placebo effect-would not get better!

The Placebo Effect: “I shall please”, the literal translation of the Latin word is a medicinal sham widely used in medicine to simulate or intervene treatment.

  • The “I shall please” effect solidifies the fact that the human brain plays an important role in maintaining physical health. But, laboratory work and clinical medicine are miles apart and there would be a clash between the Hippocratic Oath and the deceptive use of inert placebos.
  • Prescribing placebos keeping a patient in mind can be allowed. But, can prescribing just pure placebos alone cure a patient? No conclusive evidence exists that can solidify the use of placebos for curing patients.
  • The debate about placebos has been ongoing for 55 years now, and there still exists no concrete evidence to suggests its effectiveness.

Brain and the Placebo Effect: The use of placebos is just not restricted to a particular area of medicine but is widespread in all the fields of medicine.

The use of shams has been so effective that there have been reports of improvement in-

  • pain alleviation
  • arthritic conditions
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • cancer

Not just the use of a drug or an injection, but just the feeling of being treated can bring about a huge psychological change, thanks to the patient’s perception. These beliefs are not intentional and are only a part of one’s sub-conscious mind.

  • Yet, these beliefs are apparently said to control bodily reactions like hormonal responses and immunity levels.
  • Researchers have been able to conclude that the roots of these placebo responses exists in brain’s active regions.

The Duration of the Effect: If it clicks, the effects of placebo can be felt for a long time. For instance, rheumatoid arthritis patients can experience the effects for at least 2 years, over 8 weeks in panic disorder patients and over 6 months in people who suffer from angina pectoris (severe chest pain).

The Nocebo Effect: “I shall harm”, the exact opposite of placebo. Any medicine would come with its share of side-effects and so does an inert medicine.

  • For instance, use of inert drugs can lead to withdrawal symptoms in women suffering from menopause.
  • Opiate when used in the form of a placebo can lead to respiratory depression.

The Use of Placebos: In recent times, the use of placebos has been more in order to stop the abuse of drugs. Most doctors are having to resort to these inert drugs to calm patients’ demands of unjustified medicines.

  • Some of theĀ  most used placebos are antibiotics for treating viral infections and vitamins to deal with fatigue.
  • Surveys have reported that almost 48 percent practitioners in Denmark prescribe placebos while the percentage increases to 60 in Israel.
  • Critics of this practice suggest that the prescribing of inert drugs is not good for a doctor-patient relationship. They also point out that the a proper diagnosis and treatment would be delayed in case the underlying condition is a serious one.

Placebo- a myth or reality comes down to the individual who is perceiving it.

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