Placebo Effects in Medicine

A recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine (see the hyperlink) highlighted the complex issue of the placebo effect in medicine. The placebo effect is more than the effects seen with interventions such as “sugar” pills. Once viewed as a negative, the placebo effect is now viewed as an integral part of drug development and therapy.

The placebo effect is potentially more confusing in veterinary medicine. While our patients are not vulnerable to such influences, our clients and even ourselves are not immune. We may want to see improvement or ask questions of owners that may be leading, resulting in a delay in seeking effective therapies. Conversely, we may incorrectly attribute side effects to a medication when we or pet owners anticipate negative reactions.

Since our patients cannot talk, it is even more important that we are aware of the placebo effect, recognizing both the positive and negative effects such interventions may bring.

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