Placebos Widely Used in Human and Veterinary Medicine

 |  Oct 26th 2008  |   0 Contributions


An article on Yahoo! news the other day caught my eye. Here is an excerpt.

American doctors regularly prescribe placebo pills that are intended to have a psychological effect, a new survey finds. . .

The placebo effect, well-established in countless studies, is a benefit produced by assuring someone that whatever is being given will benefit whatever the problem happens to be -- "optimism or confidence that something is being done," as [Dr. Farr A.] Curlin phrased it.

What the article says, in essence, is that when people go to the doctor, they want to be cured. Many people feel neglected if they do not receive some form of treatment or medicine.

This happens in veterinary medicine, as well. As I mentioned in my first and second articles on the little-known side effects of common medications, practicing clinicians often write prescriptions that will not truly affect a patient's condition except through the placebo effect. However, when these medicines are prescribed, side effects are possible.

In some cases, veterinarians write needless prescriptions because clients pressure them to do so. In other cases, the pressure comes from inside the vet. Vets want to feel like they are working to cure their patients. They sometimes dispense a medicine even though it isn't truly appropriate for the condition.

I have most regularly witnessed this phenomenon in the treatment of feline asthma. Mild cases of feline asthma cause occasional coughing. Many cats with mild asthma don't need daily treatment. They would be better off without medication.

However, quite a few mildly asthmatic cats are placed on antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or chlorpheniramine (Chlortrimeton). In theory, this makes sense. Asthma in cats is caused partly by allergies.

However, numerous studies have shown that these two antihistamines have no effect whatsoever on the clinical course of feline asthma. Prescribing these medicines makes vets and clients feel like they are helping cats. That is how the placebo effect works in veterinary medicine. In reality, the medicines do nothing but annoy the cats and put them at risk of side effects.

Before you accept a medication for your pet, talk to your vet. Make sure that the medication is truly appropriate for your dog or cat. Don't give your pet placebos.

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