Is the placebo effect additive

From Lena Machetanz, doctor
All NetDoktor content is checked by medical journalists.

As Placebo effect In medicine, one describes the occurrence of a therapeutic effect through the administration of tablets without active ingredients (placebos) or so-called sham treatments. The patients do not know that they are not taking any real medication. In addition to therapeutic use, placebos are also often used in research to test the effectiveness of a new drug. Read everything about the placebo effect, when the doctor can use it sensibly and what the risks are.

What is the placebo effect?

The placebo effect is the soothing or healing effect of a drug that does not contain an active ingredient. Such drugs are called placebos. They look like normal tablets, but mostly only contain fillers, for example lactose and starch.

But not only drugs serve as placebo, treatments such as dummy operations or acupuncture can also have a healing or soothing effect on the patient.

When do you use the placebo effect?

Placebos are used both to treat various ailments and to test new drugs. It is important, however, that the doctor checks that the patient's symptoms are not triggered by a life-threatening illness or illness that requires treatment before starting a placebo treatment.

Placebo effect for therapy

Placebos are often used for so-called psychosomatic illnesses, i.e. illnesses that have no physical cause but are psychological. Examples are sleep disorders, headaches, depression or restlessness. If a placebo helps, it doesn't mean that the symptoms were only imaginary. Placebos are also used in combination with "real" drugs to enhance their effect.

Placebo effect for research purposes

When a newly developed drug is to be tested, it is usually compared with the standard drug used up to now. Otherwise, the doctor compares the effect of the new drug with that of a placebo: One patient group receives the real active ingredient, the comparison group the active ingredient-free tablet. The new drug is considered to be superior if it shows a significantly better effect than the placebo.

How does the placebo effect work?

How exactly the placebo effect actually works has not yet been adequately researched. Important influencing factors are the expectations that the patient has of the dummy drug and the belief in its healing properties. That is why the patient must not know that the prescribed preparations are tablets without active ingredients or a sham treatment.

Another important factor is the communication between doctor and patient: the more confidence the doctor gives the patient in relation to a healing effect of the applied measure, the stronger the positive reaction of the patient is usually. Studies have shown that the placebo effect mainly occurs when the doctor takes the patient's complaints seriously and does not downplay their worries.

Placebo drugs

In therapy with dummy drugs, the patient takes placebo tablets, which are similar in shape and color to a drug containing active ingredients. If the placebo is given as an infusion, it usually contains saline solution.

What are the risks of the placebo effect?

Biochemically, a placebo does not cause any side effects because it contains no active ingredient. However, in addition to positive effects, the placebo effect can also lead to negative effects, for example if the patient expects certain side effects. Then one speaks of a so-called nocebo effect.

Another risk with the use of placebos is that the patient sees through the sham treatment. This not only means that the therapy no longer works, but can also put a considerable strain on the relationship of trust between doctor and patient.

Further information: Nocebo

What a nocebo is, when the nocebo effect occurs and what can be done against the negative effects of a dummy drug, read in the article Nocebo.

What do I have to consider with the placebo effect?

As a rule, you as a patient are not privy to a sham treatment and your symptoms improve on one Placebo effect is based. Accordingly, there is usually no specific precaution for you to take.

As with any other therapy, if your symptoms improve or if you experience any side effects, talk to your doctor about it.

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