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Fair Warning May Ease Nausea

Telling people beforehand they'll feel sick eases symptoms, study finds

WEDNESDAY, June 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors may help reduce patients' post-surgery nausea simply by preparing them for it ahead of time.

A new U.S. study found that patients who expected to feel nauseous actually experienced less nausea than those who were not prepared.

Researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine studied the effects of expectation on nausea in 75 healthy college students who were divided into three groups. All of the students received a placebo pill, but each group was told something different about the pill. One group was told that the pill would prevent nausea, one that it would exacerbate nausea symptoms, and the third that the pill would have no impact on their nausea.

After taking the pills, the students sat inside a rotating drum covered in vertical stripes, which simulated self-motion of the participants. The rotation continued at a consistent pace for up to 16 minutes.

Each participant wore electrodes on their abdomens to monitor their stomach activity. They were also asked via intercom about their symptoms while inside the drum, including nausea, warmth, dizziness and drowsiness.

Participants who had been told that the pill would not influence nausea experienced nausea symptoms that were 2.5 times worse than those who had been told they would feel nauseous. The unprepared participants also had 30 percent higher abnormal stomach activity related to nausea.

"Surprisingly, symptoms of nausea and motion sickness were least severe among participants [who were] told their experience would be made more unpleasant by the drug," study author Max E. Levine, Ph.D., an assistant professor of gastroenterology, said in a prepared statement. "Those who unnecessarily braced themselves for a tortuous ordeal may have been calmed or relaxed by what they experienced," the authors concluded.

The authors noted that the study results, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, could help improve patient's nausea relating to treatment or surgery.

"Being prepared to experience a negative reaction to the drum was associated with less nausea and more normal stomach activity, suggesting that how patients are prepared for potentially adverse events can meaningfully affect their responses to them," Levine said. "If patients are informed about what they will likely be going through over the course of an illness or treatment, it may influence their ability to cope with the symptoms once they develop," he added.

More information

The National Institutes of Health has more information on nausea.

SOURCES: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, news release, June 19, 2006
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