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What Exactly Is The Nocebo Effect?

Updated: Aug 3, 2019

What is the Nocebo effect

The Nocebo Effect occurs when you feel a treatment or medication, etc, will harm you, therefore it does. While it is often discussed when it comes to the side effects of medication, it can also be used to describe various forms of pseudoscientific woo.

One example of this would be "Wi-Fi Sickness", otherwise known as Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome (EHS). This is where people start getting symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, and headaches due to the perceived harm of Wi-Fi signals. However, studies have shown that these symptoms appear, even when no Wi-Fi is present at all.

How is it different than a Placebo?

A placebo is a fake medication, often referred to as a sugar pill, that is meant to test if a medication is effective, or if it is just all the minds of the person taking the medication. This can have a ton of benefits when it comes to improving the mindsets and health of the people involved, without having to deal with potential side effects that come with most medications.

The Nocebo effect is not really different, to be honest. It is just used to describe the negative effects, as opposed to the positive ones. It is important to understand that the symptoms are real, and people are actually suffering from headaches and nausea, etc. It's just that the cause of it is perception, and not Wi-Fi/etc.

Does it have any effect on medications?

One of the biggest concerns with the Nocebo Effect comes with medications. While some participants in medical trials may feel side effects from certain medications, some people who take a placebo can also experience similar side effects. This is even truer if they were told beforehand that the side effects exist.

This can also have some ethical dilemmas as well. If telling a patient that a procedure might hurt causes significantly more pain, should they not inform the patient? And if they don't inform them, could that be potential for harm as well?

When it comes to unexpected issues coming from testing treatments, there is a lot more that we have to learn and deal with. The Nocebo Effect is just one of many things that doctors have to take into account when it comes to ensuring proper care.

In fact, there is a great video discussing the Nocebo Effect well from a popular science YouTuber known as CGP Grey:

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