Pain Medication: Whether it Works or Not, It’s All in Your Head

There may be reason to think that medication should not only be taken with a glass of water but also a positive attitude. Based on recent research, the way your body responds to a drug taken for pain relief may be affected by your expectations of the drug.  Typically, a drug’s effectiveness is thought to be simply the result of the body’s physiological response. But a recent study found that one’s attitude about whether a drug will work has a direct influence on its ability to reduce pain.

Researchers examined the results of the pain relief drug Remifentanil (marketed by GlaxoSmithKline and Abbott as Ultiva) on 22 adult study participants.  Participants were exposed to pain-producing heat and all given the same dosage of painkilling medication. Researchers then studied the brain scans of the participants to look at their response to pain stimulus. The MRI brain images of the group who expected the drug to work showed that their pain relief doubled. In contrast, the group that did not expect the drug to work experienced minimal to no pain relief.

Not only was pain perception lower in the group that expected the drug to work but they also experienced reduced anxiety levels.  In all of the study groups, the perception of pain intensity seen in the brain images mirrored the expectations of the patients. In conclusion, doctors may want to consider dealing with a patient’s expectations of a drug before the start of any drug therapy. And next time you pop a painkiller, expecting it to work may go a long way.

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