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Pain research using electronic diaries helps identify who responds to 'placebo effect'

Studies involving people who suffer from chronic pain often give some of them placebos, "sugar pills" with no medicinal value, to show whether the treatment has real value. Little is known, however, about the types of people who tend to respond positively to placebos, a mystery that places a hurdle before researchers who want to learn the best way to treat people's pain.

A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System sheds some light on one group of people that seems to experience the "placebo effect." The researchers found that people with one type of chronic pain who have greater swings in their pain fluctuations tend to be more likely to respond to placebos.

The study of people with fibromyalgia a type of chronic pain affecting several million people that typically involves tenderness, stiffness and fatigue appears in the current edition of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

"There is substantial evidence that the placebo effect has strong biological underpinnings, and that some individuals are more likely than others to demonstrate this effect," says Daniel J. Clauw, M.D., director of the U-M Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center and professor of rheumatology at the U-M Medical School.

"This study suggests that individuals with greater hour-to-hour and day-to-day variability in their pain may be more likely to be placebo responders," says Clauw, senior author of the paper. "When such individuals are placed in clinical trials of new interventions, the strong placebo effect they experience can make it difficult to determine if there is a superimposed effect of the treatment being tested."

"This finding is important because so far, nobody has been able to fingerprint placebo responders," adds Richard A. Harris, Ph.D., lead author of the paper, research investigator in the Division of Rheumatology at the U-M Medical School's Department of Internal Medicine and a researcher at the Chronic Pain and
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Contact: Katie Gazella
kgazella@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
22-Nov-2005


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