The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Lifestyles

January 15, 2014

Study: Thinking positive helps migraine drug work

WASHINGTON (AP) — Talk about mind over matter: A quirky new study suggests patients’ expectations can make a big difference in how they feel after treatment for a migraine.

Boston researchers recruited 66 migraine patients in an attempt to quantify how much of their pain relief came from a medication and how much was due to what’s called the placebo effect, the healing power of positive belief.

More than 450 headaches later, they reported Wednesday that it’s important for doctors to carefully choose what they tell patients about a powerful medicine — because the message could help enhance its benefits, or blunt them.

“Every word you say counts, not only every gram of the medication,” said Harvard professor Ted Kaptchuk, who led the new study with a team at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital.

Here’s how it worked. First, the patients who suffer regular migraines agreed to forgo pain relievers for several hours during one attack, recording their symptoms for comparison with later headaches.

Then for each of their next six migraines, the patients were given a different pill inside an envelope with a different message. Sometimes they were told it was an effective migraine drug named rizatriptan, a positive message. Other times they were told it was a placebo, a dummy pill, suggesting no benefit. Still other times they were told the pill could be either one, a neutral message.

Sometimes the doctor’s message was true — they were told they got rizatriptan and they really did. Sometimes it was false because researchers had secretly switched the pills.

Mixing up the possibilities allowed researchers to tease out how the same person’s pain relief differed from migraine to migraine as his or her expectations changed.

Of course the real migraine drug worked far better than the dummy pill. But remarkably, people who knew they were taking a placebo still reported less pain than when they’d left their migraine untreated, the researchers found.

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