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Half of doctors prescribe placebos, study finds

The Local · 3 Mar 2011, 11:30

Published: 03 Mar 2011 11:30 GMT+01:00

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“Placebos have much stronger and more complex effects than we used to think. Their use is extremely important in medicine,” said Christoph Fuchs, managing director of the association, adding that pills and injections without active ingredients can be enormously beneficial to patients.

The author of the study, Robert Jütte, said about one in two doctors in Germany prescribes placebos on occasion. In Bavaria, a study found that 88 percent of general practitioners prescribe inactive drugs.

Often, doctors prescribe vitamin pills or homeopathic remedies that contain none of the medicine generally used to treat a specific illness. Some physicians even have agreements with nearby pharmacies who give patients sugar pills when filling prescriptions.

While it is still not completely understood how placebos function, researchers hypothesize that they work by activating the brain’s frontal lobe.

According to Jütte, what might appear as ethically dubious is actually often in the best interest of the patient. One study in Germany found that placebos helped 59 percent of patients with stomach ailments. With depression, placebos have the same effect as anti-depressants in about one-third of cases. In addition, placebos also carry none of the side-effects that genuine medicines often do.

“Using placebos often maximizes the desired medicinal effect, reduces unwelcome side-effects and cuts health care costs,” Jütte said.

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The medical association added that doctors should only prescribe placebos under certain conditions, for example if there is no approved pharmaceutical therapy available, if the patient only has a minor illness or condition and if it appears likely that a placebo treatment will be successful.


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

12:14 March 3, 2011 by Landmine
If I ever found out I paid full price for a sugar pill prescribed by my doctor, I'd be at my lawyers office filling out a lawsuit for fraud. Medicine is not cheap and to be duped into paying full price for a sugar pill is almost fraud.
12:25 March 3, 2011 by Kayak
If you have pain that can be removed by being deceived then you have a mental disorder that needs treatment.

Now before anyone feels like attacking my statement, perhaps you should take a surger pill, lie down and rest a bit.
12:30 March 3, 2011 by catjones
Those 'doctors' should be paid with counterfeit euros.
12:33 March 3, 2011 by brb65
"The medical association added that doctors should only prescribe placebos under certain conditions, for example .... if it appears likely that a placebo treatment will be successful" And how is a doctor supposed to judge whether or not a fraudulent - cough, cough - placebo treatment will be successful? Gaze into his crystal ball?
12:48 March 3, 2011 by marimay
People are over-medicated and under-educated when it comes to their own health. There are some out there who will always insist on getting a prescription, so in those cases a placebo is a good idea, as long as it is free.
14:38 March 3, 2011 by authun
Agree with you, marimay, excepting that I do not find it unethical to charge (a minimal) something for the treatment if, again, the user is insistent. After all, said patient is denying access to the doctor from the rest of us.
18:07 March 3, 2011 by derExDeutsche
Any time they can lower the quality of German Healthcare, without lowering the cost; it is another small Victory;)

Its a good thing the poor Germans don't have any alternatives. No difference, I guess, like you say, they're too stupid to make decisions or know the difference anyway.
19:05 March 3, 2011 by toemag
Been there done that, got home and googled the meds I'd been prescribed and went back to my Doctors practice and asked to see him as my problem seemed to be getting worse by the minute. Went in to see him and confronted him with my Googled findings and asked him if he thought I was making my symptoms up? His reply was as professional as it was lame and he said the meds I had previously had hadn't worked and he thought it was a psychosomatic illness and that the next step would be to see a shrink... At that point I realized that he was the wrong doctor and told him as much. In the meantime I have another Doctor who is worth his weight in gold who correctly diagnosed my condition and the treatment he prescribed has been successful... If you are not happy with your medical professionals change them....
19:20 March 3, 2011 by catjones
In the States people are wringing their hands over teacher tenure and how incompetent teachers are immune to dismissal. That's nothing compared to the doctor cabal where incompetence can lead to injury or death with impunity. In the USA the sanctioned doctor just sets up shop in a different state...there's 50 of them....and goes on charging. Same thing in DL?
19:22 March 3, 2011 by marimay
I just recently avoided unnecessary surgery in this country by getting a second opinion, because my first doctor looked at me as if i were a cash cow.

All medical systems are flawed, because doctors are only human and humans are greedy and humans make mistakes.

If you do your own research and visit the doctor prepared, your odds of getting the correct treatment are much higher.
19:40 March 3, 2011 by toemag
That's why there isn't a cure for Cancer, bet you a pound to a pinch of salt that if cancer became a epidemic and 90% percent of the population became infected they'd roll out a cure in days rather than years......
23:36 March 3, 2011 by germinator
even though "placebo effects" are as a matter of course factored out of double blind pharmacology studies, their magnitude is often many orders above the effect created by the "approved" drug. mull on that.
18:04 March 4, 2011 by Englishted
How do we know they are real Doctors?
18:16 March 4, 2011 by michael4096
@catjones -"Same thing in DL?"

Not in DL, but in Europe, yes. Recent case where a german doctor couldn't practice in germany but signed on as a temp in england. He killed a couple of people.

Re the article. Surely, if you get something that works, you just say thankyou and don't question whether it was the drug or you that made it happen. The last thing you need is to undermine the cure.
23:22 March 8, 2011 by Almeda11
KAYAK; your quote;

If you have pain that can be removed by being deceived then you have a mental disorder that needs treatment.

BUT, the power of belief is one of the most powerful in the universe, and science is only just beginning to understand how it works.

lt says in the article that "While it is still not completely understood how placebos function, researchers hypothesize that they work by activating the brain¦#39;s frontal lobe".

And in another piece of scientific research it stated that purely by the act of believing that a pain can disappear , our belief that something will work produces endorphines, which are the body`s own natural painkillers!

There was als, many years ago, a study done with volunteers who were told that they would be receiving a mild burn on the upper arm. ln fact they did not receive a burn, just a light touch to their arms with an implement. However, afterwards, when the blindfolds were removed, in almost 3/4 of cases there was a blister like mark on the skin of the volunteers. This is incredible but just shows the extent to which the mind can affect the body, for good or ill, and science is discovering more about this mind/body relationship every day. l find it exciting, the more we know and understand the better as far as l am concerned, although l have believed for a long time that belief is a power in its own right.
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