Should doctors consider the affect of negative thinking from patients? British and German researchers would think so. They concluded that pessimism could override the effectiveness of powerful treatments.
They strapped a heat-beaming device onto the legs of 22 healthy volunteers, zapping it until people rated their pain at nearly 70 on a scale of 1 to 100. Then the researchers hooked up an IV to give them the powerful morphine-like painkiller remifentanil.
When the researchers induced the burn and turned on the drug, the volunteers said their pain improved a fair amount. The researchers next told the volunteers they were about to inject the painkiller even though they’d never turned it off. Those pain ratings dropped even more äóñ the expectation of relief doubled the drug’s painkilling benefit. Then researchers said (lying) they were stopping the drug and that pain would probably increase. Sure enough, the volunteers’ pain levels soared back up. Mind over matter.
Learning how anxiety influences pain is crucial to understanding this nocebo effect – how you get the pain you expect, said co-author and Oxford neuroscientist Irene Tracey. Part of this stems from having a positive doctor-patient relationship as well.æ Managing patients’ expectations and spelling out exactly what will happen can go a long way in building patient confidence in healing.
So perhaps researchers are suggesting that positive patients seek out positive physicians. After all there are so many curmudgeons out there. Get someone who will be positive but frank in his or her relationship with you.