Health22 Feb 2010 05:19 pm
The placebo effect is the measurable, observable, or felt improvement in health or behavior not attributable to a medication or invasive treatment that has been administered. The idea of the placebo effect originated with H.K. Beecher in the 1950s, when he discovered that 35% of his patients were satisfactorily relieved of their symptoms by a placebo alone.
Subsequent studies have even claimed that the placebo effect is even more effective than Beecher thought, with an estimated 50-60% of test subjects satisfactorily treated with placebos for certain conditions. However, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month sent shock waves through the medical community, when researchers reported that the benefits of antidepressants are hardly more than what patients get when they take a placebo pill. In sum, their findings suggest that antidepressants are little better than expensive tic tacs.
However, many doctors are reluctant to blow the whistle on antidepressants, fearing that it effect their patient outcomes. The placebo effect relies on a complex interplay between belief, expectation and attitude, and doctors (perhaps correctly) fear that telling their patients the truth will upset this equilibrium and that their depression will return. However, antidepressants are NOT just placebo pills with futuristic names; they are extremely costly drugs with notable side effects, such as weight gain, liver damage and sexual dysfunction. Moreover, people who stop taking antidepressant medications abruptly often experience a host of withdrawal symptoms, including twitches, tremors, blurred vision, and nausea—as well as depression and anxiety.
This study raises some very uncomfortable ethical questions about these popular medications, especially in light of the estimated 27 million Americans who are currently prescribed antidepressant medication. Doctors might find themselves caught between being dishonest and preserving the positive outcomes of their patients or telling them the truth and taking the risk that they might revert back to their depression. Now that’s a hard pill to swallow…
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