The so-called beneficial placebo effect has been well studied. If a doctor gives patients fake pills (placebos) that don’t contain any active ingredients but which are expected by the patients to help, the “medicine” may still clear up illness. Plenty of people get better even though they take these types of sham pills. But not much has been done to study the dark side of the placebo effect.
This negative aspect, known as the nocebo effect, occurs when a healthcare practitioner communicates negative expectations to patients. The mere suggestion of bad stuff about to happen may bring on sickness and suffering.
A study in the journal Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, investigates the consequences of the nocebo effect.
The study concludes:
- Doctors have to be careful in discussing the side effects of drugs or the mere discussion can bring on those harmful side effects.
- If healthcare practitioners say a procedure will burn, hurt or be painful, that description may exacerbate the discomfort.
- More bad things happen to patients when doctors emphasize the possibility of negative complications.