Power of suggestion revealed in study of migraine drug - 21 News Now, More Local News for Youngstown, Ohio -

Power of suggestion revealed in study of migraine drug

Updated:

By Mary Brophy Marcus
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A new study of migraine sufferers suggests that what you're told when your doctor prescribes medication can influence your body's response to it.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston compared the effects of a common migraine drug and an inactive placebo in 66 people who suffer from migraines. The condition includes throbbing headache, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound.

The results consistently showed that taking the pills accompanied by positive information increased the effectiveness of the treatment, whether the patient had taken the real deal -- the drug Maxalt -- or a pill labeled "placebo."

Headache specialist Dr. Andrew Charles said the study demonstrates that expectation about response plays an important role in the ultimate response to a treatment.

"When migraine patients were told by their doctor that a pill would help ease their headaches, this advice seemed to produce results whether or not the pill was a real migraine medication or a dummy placebo," said Charles, professor and director of the headache research and treatment program in the department of neurology at University of California School of Medicine, Los Angeles.

"Relief was still higher with the actual medicine, so drugs do work beyond the placebo effect, but the researchers say that the placebo effect may still account for half of the therapeutic value of a drug," said Charles, who was not involved in the research.

For the study, published online Jan. 8 in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the scientists studied more than 450 migraine attacks in the study participants, following them over seven separate episodes.

To establish a baseline, each person was asked to report their pain and symptoms 30 minutes after the onset of an unmedicated migraine episode, and again 2.5 hours after its onset.

Each participant then received six treatment envelopes. The envelopes were labeled in one of three ways: "Maxalt" (rizatriptan); "placebo"; or "Maxalt or placebo." The labels were true for four attacks and false for two attacks.

The three situations were labeled by the researchers as positive (meaning a drug that could help with migraine symptoms was provided), negative (meaning no drug, only a placebo pill was provided), or neutral (meaning it was unknown if the drug or placebo pill was within the envelope). But for two situations, one of the "Maxalt" envelopes actually held a placebo and one of the "placebo" envelopes contained Maxalt.

The participants were asked to self-report their responses to treatment over the course of their next six migraine episodes.

Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, a senior author of the study, said that even though Maxalt was superior to the placebo in terms of alleviating pain, "we found that under each of the three messages, the placebo effect accounted for at least 50 percent of the subjects' overall pain relief."

When Maxalt was labeled "Maxalt," the patients' reports of pain relief more than doubled compared to when Maxalt was labeled "placebo," said Kaptchuk, a professor of medicine at Harvard. "This tells us that the effectiveness of a good pharmaceutical may be doubled by enhancing the placebo effect," he said.

When patients received Maxalt labeled as placebo, they were being treated by the medication but without any positive expectation, the other senior author, Rami Burstein, a professor of medicine at Harvard, said in a Beth Israel news release. "This was an attempt to isolate the pharmaceutical effect of Maxalt from any placebo effect," Burstein said.

The authors were surprised to find that even when patients were given a placebo labeled as "placebo," they reported pain relief, compared with no treatment.

"We don't know what that's about. It's a novel finding," added Kaptchuk.

Charles said the study was interesting and confirms what many experts believe about the placebo effect. "It's more rigorous than perhaps a number of the other studies that have been done previously," he noted.

Could these results play out across the spectrum of medical care?

"Obviously we don't know, we only looked at migraine," said Kaptchuk, "but I think that in many categories of illness and drugs, this would be proof of concept.

"This is likely to be operating in many other conditions, especially in conditions like nausea or irritable bowel syndrome, where a person's illness is defined by self-report," he added. "Self-reporting is a big part of what people feel."

More research will be needed to explore how these findings could be applied to clinical care and to learn more about how placebos might help boost drug treatment care, Kaptchuk said.

Some research has suggested that simply hearing the words of medicine can have a healing effect, he noted.

The study was partly funded by Merck and Co., the maker of Maxalt.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about migraine.

Copyright © 2014 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

*DISCLAIMER*: The information contained in or provided through this site section is intended for general consumer understanding and education only and is not intended to be and is not a substitute for professional advice. Use of this site section and any information contained on or provided through this site section is at your own risk and any information contained on or provided through this site section is provided on an "as is" basis without any representations or warranties.
  • More From wfmj.comMore>>

  • US warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries

    US warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries

    Friday, August 1 2014 10:52 PM EDT2014-08-02 02:52:19 GMT
    United States issues travel warning for three African countries hit by Ebola outbreak.More >>
    U.S. health officials on Thursday warned Americans not to travel to the three West African countries hit by an outbreak of Ebola.More >>
  • US job growth eases but tops 200K for a 6th month

    US job growth eases but tops 200K for a 6th month

    Friday, August 1 2014 5:59 PM EDT2014-08-01 21:59:07 GMT
    U.S. employers extended this year's hiring surge into July by adding a solid 209,000 jobs. It was the sixth straight month of job growth above 200,000, evidence that businesses are shedding the caution that had...More >>
    A sixth straight month of solid 200,000-plus job growth in July reinforced growing evidence that the U.S. economy is accelerating after five years of sluggish expansion.More >>
  • GM boosted June sales with discounts to dealers

    GM boosted June sales with discounts to dealers

    Friday, August 1 2014 9:42 AM EDT2014-08-01 13:42:40 GMT
    By TOM KRISHER Associated Press Auto Writer As General Motors prepares to report monthly sales results on Friday, a look its numbers from June show just how intent the company is on keeping...More >>
    By TOM KRISHER Associated Press Auto Writer As General Motors tackles a safety crisis, a look its numbers from June show just how intent the company is on keeping new-car sales on the rise during a record...More >>
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Worldnow and WFMJ. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms