Asthma Study Shows Strong Placebo Effect

Asthma sufferers may respond just as well to placebo treatment as they do to real treatment.

According to the results of a new study, asthma sufferers may respond just as well to placebo treatment as they do to real treatment.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Harvard Medical School, and was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Researchers asked thirty-nine participants in the study rotate through four treatment options: the individuals either received an inhaler containing real asthma medication (albuterol), an inhaler containing a placebo, a fake acupuncture treatment (patients were under the impression it was real), or no treatment at all.

Patients receiving no treatment reported that their symptoms improved 21%, but patients receiving a placebo inhaler improved by 45%, and 46% with the fake acupuncture. Patients who received the true asthma medication, albuterol, improved by 50%.

According to the investigators, the patients assessed their treatments at the end of the study and reported that “the placebo effects were equivalent to the drug effect.”

These results, however, may also imply that patients cannot be depended upon to provide a correct account of whether their symptoms are improving. The researchers stated that the participants could not tell when the albuterol was making a true impact on their asthma symptoms, as the three groups who were under the impression that they were getting treatment instead of a placebo reported a significant difference in how they felt.

In reality, though, the patients who were administered albuterol benefitted from a 20% increase in lung function; the placebo treatments only produced a 7% increase in lung capacity.

“Even though there was a large, objective drug effect that was nearly three times the effect of the two placebos and the no-intervention control,” the authors reported. “Patients could not reliably detect the difference between this robust effect of the active drug and the effects of inhaled placebo and sham acupuncture.”

This study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.