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The Mind- Nocebo Effect a Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Updated on August 6, 2022
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I spent 22 years in the nursing profession. I enjoy writing, reading historical novels, gardening, and helping people live a healthier life.

Supernatural and Scary
Supernatural and Scary | Source

Nocebo Effect – I shall harm

The mind is powerful and pessimism can block healing treatment. The nocebo effect (in Latin, placebo means “I shall please,” and nocebo, “I shall harm”) is not known, as well as, the placebo effect, which is the direct opposite.

The placebo effect has been well researched. The physician will give the patient a narcotic to reduce pain on one occasion, and then a placebo the next time. More often than not the patient receives relief both times. This is a simple example.

Deadly Curses

Anthropologists have examined reports of witch doctors who issue deathly curses and what they've learned is once the person receives the curse they believe it, and the families no longer give the" walking dead" any food, so the cursed individual will literally die of starvation.

In another example, in the1970’s, doctors diagnosed a man with end stage liver cancer and told him he had just a few months to live. The patient died during that time frame, but when they did the autopsy they found the man only had a tiny tumor that had not spread. Yet the man died. This is an example of the nocebo effect.

Brain- Healthy versus Chronic Pain These scans were performed at the Mayo Clinic. source Mayo Clinic
Brain- Healthy versus Chronic Pain These scans were performed at the Mayo Clinic. source Mayo Clinic

Phenomenon of the Nocebo Effect

The self-fulfilling prophecy of negative thinking has not been researched very well, but it would seem it's time for doctors to start paying a lot more attention to their patient's outlook. Doctors have seen that many treatments work for most people but not others. There is every reason to believe a person's attitude is very influential in recovery.

Even when the doctor prescribes a placebo about 25% of the people complain of headaches, fatigue, insomnia, stomach aches, nausea, dizziness, weakness and other symptoms, which are side effects that were not there before the placebo. These ailments are not only real, but they can be disabling. This is a puzzling phenomena of the nocebo effect.

The Placebo Effect

Nocebo Research

British and German researchers performed the most sophisticated study so far to prove the nocebo effect. They had 22 healthy volunteers for this study. They strapped a heat beaming device to the legs of the volunteers, zapping it until people rated their pain at nearly 70 on a scale of 1 to 100.

The researchers hooked up an IV to give them the powerful morphine-like painkiller, (remifentanil). This is a medication typically used for surgical patients and it is metabolized rapidly, so researchers can alternate between giving the drug and switching to plain fluid with a quick response from the patients.

As the volunteers described how much pain and pain relief they felt, their brains were being scanned. The researchers induced the burn and turned on the drug, the volunteers stated their pain improved.

The researchers next told the volunteers they were about to inject more of the painkiller, even though they kept it the same. The pain ratings of the volunteers dropped even more, meaning the expectation of relief doubled the drug's painkilling benefit.

Finally, the researchers told the volunteers they were stopping the drug and the pain would probably increase, although they kept the drug running. The volunteer's pain levels soared back up to almost their pretreated level as their grim expectations muted the effect of a proven and potent painkiller, plus anxiety levels fluctuate similarly.

Neural Pain Pathways

The brain cells show changes in neural pain networks that prove the people really did experience the changes in pain that they reported. In addition, expecting more pain fires up sections of the brain that control mood and anxiety, researchers recently reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Anticipated pain relief fired up different regions previously found active in people given placebos. The JAMA paper states a patient who expects to suffer painful symptoms is more likely to do so. Patients who are depressed also feel more bodily distress. Women report more disturbing initial symptoms more often than men.

Anxiety and Negative Expectations

It is imperative to learn how anxiety influences pain to understand the nocebo effect and to understand the precise mechanisms behind nocebo. How is it that you get the pain that you expect when there is no physical reason for it?

Clinically this is very important as the nocebo effect certainly contaminates research trials and it is costly. Patients who blame all their symptoms on the pill they're taking may give up very quickly on a potentially beneficial treatment.

This is not just in the mind, but it's also about physical effects. The stress created by the nocebo effect (expecting a negative outcome) can have a long-lasting impact on the heart, for instance, possibly serious enough to cause fatal damage.

Placebos & Nocebos - How Your Brain Hurts You

In Conclusion- Mind over Matter

This effect is not just in the mind, but it's also about physical effects. The stress created by the nocebo effect can have a long-lasting impact on the heart, for instance, possibly serious enough to cause fatal damage.

Physicians may be able to lessen nocebo reactions by building trust with their patients. Doctors and nurses need to identify any chronic symptoms that their patients may suffer before beginning any course of new treatment, and they should discuss the new nocebo phenomena with their patients. Educating the patient can go a long way towards a more positive outcome. In other words, mind over matter.

Placebo and Nocebo Effect

Do you believe you can control pain or other physical symptoms with your mind?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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