Journal scan

'Nocebo' effect makes patients feel worse

Researchers claim patients are more likely to experience negative side effects when they take a medication they think is more expensive.

Researchers claim patients are more likely to experience negative side effects when they take a medication they think is more expensive.


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Neuroscientists at University Medical Center in Hamburg, Germany, investigated the phenomenon called the nocebo effect – described as being opposite to the placebo effect.

They asked 49 people to test an anti-itch cream which contained no active ingredient.

Half were given an expensive blue box while the other received the same cream in a cheaper-looking orange box.

Both were told a possible side-effect was increased sensitivity to pain – known as hyperalgesia – before they were fitted with a device which delivered a brief flash of heat (45 degrees Celsius).

Those who thought they received the expensive cream rated the pain as twice as intense as the other group, and reported it became more intense as the trial progressed.

In comparison the cheap cream group reported a slight decrease in pain.

Brain and spinal cord scans supported the patients' statements that they experienced pain.


Tinnermann A et al (2017) Nocebo effects can make you feel pain. Science. doi: doi.org/10.1126/science.aap8488

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