This site is intended for healthcare professionals only

Placebo: A clinical, biological and ethical enigma

Written by: | Published:

The placebo effect has long been known about The placebo effect has long been known about, but remains an enigma

During the Korean War, a surgeon developed acute appendicitis. As the wounded needed surgery, he asked a nurse to inject him with morphine. After his appendectomy, the surgeon looked through the records and found that ‘since he appeared distressed’ the nurse injected saline, probably to avoid mental fogging. But the surgeon expected the nurse to follow his instructions, which invoked a placebo response that countered the severe pain of acute appendicitis.1,2

Today, we know that the placebo response accounts for part of every therapeutic benefit, complicates every clinical trial and influences every interaction between nurses and patients. Even worms and flies show placebo-like effects,3 suggesting that the response partly arises from a fundamental biological process.

Certainly, the placebo response makes an important contribution to drug efficacy. In epilepsy, for example, between 10% and 15% of patients taking placebo show at least a 50% reduction in seizure frequency compared to baseline.4 People that show a strong placebo response can improve by up to 50% on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale, which is similar to the benefit produced by drugs.5

Please login or register to read the rest of the article and to have access to downloads and comments.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet your views to @IndyNurseMag

This material is protected by MA Healthcare Ltd copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.

Most read articles from Practice Nursing Journal

Practice Nursing Journal latest issue and most read articles.

Click here to read a selection of free to access articles from Practice Nursing Journal


Sign up to the newsletter


Independent Nurse is the professional resource for primary care and community nurses, providing clinical articles for practice nurses and prescribers.


Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up to date with the latest nursing news.

Stay Connected

Stay social with Independent Nurse by following us on Twitter, liking us on Facebook or connecting on LinkedIn.


Need access to some of our older articles? You can view our archive, or alternatively contact us.

Contact Us

MA Healthcare Ltd.
St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road
London, SE24 0PB

Tel: +44 (0)20 7738 5454
Registered in England and Wales No. 01878373

Meet the team


Find out how to contribute to Independent Nurse here.