When Listening to Your Doctor Does You More Harm Than Good

Posted on Updated on

noceboJust as the mind can help us with health treatments and healing, so too can it hinder. A poor outcome that had been totally generated by a subject’s negative expectation of a drug or treatment is known as a ‘nocebo’. For example research  shows that negative suggestions that lead to anxiety over a condition, can activate a peptide hormone called CCK that will intensify pain. Another example is highlighted in Daniel Moerman’s book Meaning, Medicine and the ‘Placebo Effect’ (Cambridge Studies in Medical Anthropology) where he discusses Tagamet, a drug once popular for treating stomach ulcers. Initial trials on Tagamet found it to be 70-75% effective, but once a newer drug came along that was marketed as much better than Tagamet, subsequent Tagamet trials found it to only be 64% effective even though the chemical formulae had remained unchanged.

If better advertising of one product can diminish the positive effect of another, because of ‘negative expectation‘,  just imagine what effect some of the following statements might have:

“You’ve passed the deadline, according to the statistics you shouldn’t even be alive now”

“You will experience pain afterwords and it will be several weeks before you’ll be able to move around”

“You can’t possible be ready to deliver. You’re not in enough pain yet.”

“You need to accept that you’re not going home.”

They are sentences that have been told to people. Take that either way you like!

Words such as these delivered by people in positions of assumed authority, like medical staff, can create powerful nocebo responses and  I often find myself working with people to undo the harm done by words such as these.

So my advice is to be careful what you listen to to and believe, think about whether you are you being told a fact or an opinion, because predictions of your future potential for health are often opinions rather than facts.

Further Reading:
The Nocebo Effect: How Negative Thoughts Can Harm Your Health


An fMRI study on the neural mechanisms of hyperalgesic nocebo effect,F. Benedetti et al, J. Neuroscience 2006 , 26(46), 12014-22


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s