Product labels fuelingl 'nocebo effect'

14th November 2011 - Fine Cut

An award-winning scientific essay has described how the content of printed labels on medication could fuel a phenomenon known as the 'nocebo effect'.

Penny Sarchet won the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize 2011 and an edited version of her article appeared in The Guardian, in which she examined the way a person's anxiety can influence the effectiveness of medical treatment, with symptoms somehow felt by a patient just by listing them on precautionary notes.

Citing a number of medical trials, she explained that this nocebo phenomenon is essentially the opposite of the placebo effect. While in the latter situation a positive reaction is created with an inert sugar pill, in the former a patient can experience discomfort essentially through the power of suggestion.

"This poses an ethical quandary: should doctors warn patients about side-effects if doing so makes them more likely to arise?" asked Ms Sarchet.

Creative Boom revealed that more than 800 writers across the UK submitted essays to be considered for the competition, but Ms Sarchet's 'Death by Hypochondria: The Nocebo Effect' and Tess Shellard's 'Quorum Sensing Bacteria' were the eventual winners.

A key part of Ms Sarchet's article was the reference to a new study in which academics were able to see the brain activity corresponding to nocebo pain, with researchers suggesting they could soon be able to prevent this type of problem.

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