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HomeHeathYour medicine works better if you BELIEVE it will, study finds

Your medicine works better if you BELIEVE it will, study finds


Your medicine works better if you BELIEVE it will, study finds

Drugs work better if you expect them to, a study suggests.

Patients with appendicitis who believed their antibiotics would work were ‘substantially’ more likely to see symptoms improve.

Researchers at the University of Washington said it revealed the powers of the mind and the placebo effect.

This is the idea that your brain can convince your body that a treatment is making you feel better.

The state of mind cannot lower your cholesterol or shrink a tumor, as far as scientists know, but it can improve symptoms modulated by the brain, like pain.

The above graph shows the number of operations to remove an appendix after participants received antibiotics. They were split by whether they thought the antibiotics would be unsuccessful (orange), believed they might work (green) or believed they would be completely successful (blue). Results showed those who believed antibiotics would be completely successful were least likely to need an operation to have their appendix removed

The above graph shows the number of operations to remove an appendix after participants received antibiotics. They were split by whether they thought the antibiotics would be unsuccessful (orange), believed they might work (green) or believed they would be completely successful (blue). Results showed those who believed antibiotics would be completely successful were least likely to need an operation to have their appendix removed

For the latest study, researchers looked at 425 participants who were mostly in their thirties between May 2016 and February 2020.

They were recruited from 25 medical centers across the US and were asked to fill out surveys before they were prescribed antibiotics.

They were split into three groups: Those who thought antibiotics would not work, those who thought they may help and those who felt they would be completely successful.

The groups were then monitored for 30 days. 

Results showed that those who believed in antibiotics were 13 per cent less likely to need surgery to remove their appendix than those who did not.

Of these 111 adults, there were 15 (14 per cent of the total) that needed to go for the surgery — medically termed an appendectomy.

For comparison, in the group that had no faith in antibiotics 24 out of 92 adults (27 per cent) ended up needing the treatment.

The researchers also found those who believed in antibiotics were 15 per cent less likely to be suffering with persistent symptoms such as stomach pain.

And six per cent less likely to be dissatisfied with their treatment.

Dr David Flum, a surgeon at the University of Washington who led the paper, said those who believed in antibiotics may have had better outcomes because they were more likely to stick to the treatment schedule.

He also suggested they were less likely to report feelings of pain to doctors, which impacts the decision whether or not to recommend surgery.

‘The experience and reporting of pain have been previously shown to be associated with patients’ beliefs and expectations,’ he said.

‘Participants reports of worsening pain may very well have motivated the decision for surgery.’

WHAT IS A PLACEBO? 

A placebo is anything that seems to be a ‘real’ medical treatment but is not, whether that be a sugar pill or saline injection.

What all placebos have in common is they do not contain an active substance that boosts a person’s health.

Placebos are used in studies to help scientists understand the effect of a new treatment on a given condition.

For example, in a study investigating a cholesterol-lowering drug, some would be given a placebo – often without knowing it – to compare the medication versus the sugar pill.

This allows them to check the treatment’s effectiveness and any side effects.

A placebo effect occurs when a person improves, or experiences side effects, after having nothing more than a sugar pill.

Studies show placebos can ease depression, pain, insomnia and IBS.

How placebos work is unclear but is thought to relate to the relationship between the body and the mind.

Some argue this is all in the mind but other studies show measureable physical changes after taking a placebo, such as a rise in hormones that ease depression.

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