Mind Over Medicine: Preventing the Nocebo Effect

The ‘nocebo effect’ is an interesting concept where negative expectations and beliefs about treatment or medicine can actually have a negative impact. This is opposite to the placebo effect, where positive expectations can result in positive outcomes. It shows how our thoughts and beliefs can affect how we feel, physically and emotionally. It’s important to be aware of our negative expectations and try to focus on positive thoughts to support our well-being. It is important to keep in mind that there are many factors that influence treatment success and this is only one of them. 

One such example of the nocebo effect was seen when studying patients who were switched from an originator molecule, such as Humira, to a biosimilar, as previously discussed on our blog. Patients who had not received the education needed to understand the effectiveness and safety of the biosimilar and alleviate any negative perceptions about the switch experienced adverse effects not seen in the group that had been fully educated. Sometimes misinformation regarding a treatment from various sources (e.g. social media), can lead to negative opinions about the treatment.

When starting a new medication or treatment, it’s important to remain aware of the nocebo effect and seek reliable sources for your information. 

To combat a potential nocebo effect, you can:

  1. Stay positive
    • Maintain a positive mindset and focus on the potential benefits of your treatment. Believe in your ability to heal and stay hopeful.
  2. Communicate openly
  3. Talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns or fears you may have. Ask questions and seek clarification about the treatment plan, potential side effects, and realistic expectations.
  4. Trust your healthcare provider
  5. Build a strong relationship with your healthcare provider. Believe in their expertise and guidance.
  6. Seek reliable information
  7. Be cautious of unreliable sources of information that may exaggerate the negative aspects of treatment. Consult reputable sources and ask your healthcare provider for reliable information to understand your treatment better.
  8. Stay engaged in your treatment

Maher Jibrini is a Student Pharmacist from the University of Waterloo currently doing a rotation at Charlton Health as part of his final year of studies. Maher holds a strong passion for interprofessional collaboration at all levels of healthcare and looks forward to applying his knowledge across various professions in the healthcare & pharmaceutical industry.

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