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Placebos Without Deception Still Work in IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome patients find relief with known 'sugar pills'

THURSDAY, Dec. 23 (HealthDay News) -- The placebo effect appears to work in some irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients even when they know their treatment contains nothing more than an inert substance, according to research published online Dec. 22 in PLoS ONE.

Ted J. Kaptchuk, O.M.D., of Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues randomized 80 patients with IBS to open-label placebo pills or no treatment. The pills were presented as "placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes." The objective was to test the hypothesis that non-deceptive, non-concealed administration of a placebo is better than no treatment for IBS.

The researchers found that the patients who received the open-label placebo experienced significant improvements in global improvement scores midway through the trial and at its 21-day end point compared with the no-treatment group. There were also significant results in this group for reduced symptom severity and adequate relief. There was a trend toward quality-of-life improvements observed in the open-label placebo recipients (P = .08).

"Placebos administered without deception may be an effective treatment for IBS. Further research is warranted in IBS, and perhaps other conditions, to elucidate whether physicians can benefit patients using placebos consistent with informed consent," the authors write.

One author disclosed financial relationships with Ironwood, GlaxoSmithKline, Salix, Alkermes, and Ardelyx.

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