Surgery as Placebo

A recent summary by 538 website details how surgery can be a powerful placebo: Surgery Is One Hell of a Placebo

Here’s an excerpt:

“expectations matter, and we know they matter because of a bizarre research technique called sham surgery. In these fake operations, patients are led to believe that they are having a real surgical procedure…

2014 review of 53 trials that compared elective surgical procedures to placebos found that sham surgeries provided some benefit in 74 percent of the trials and worked as well as the real deal in about half.1 Consider the middle-aged guy going in for surgery to treat his knee pain. Arthroscopic knee surgery has been a common orthopedic procedure in the United States, with about 692,000 of them performed in 2010,2 but the procedure has proven no better than a sham when done to address degenerative wear and tear, particularly on the meniscus

Even without a robust placebo effect, an ineffective surgery may seemhelpful. Chronic pain often peaks and wanes, which means that if a patient sought treatment when the pain was at its worst, the improvement of symptoms after surgery could be the result of a condition’s natural course, rather than the treatment. That softening of symptoms from an extreme measure of pain is an example of the statistical concept of regression to the mean.

My take: Both with medicine and surgery, sometimes improvement occurs even when the treatment itself is not effective.

Dupont Forest, NC

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s