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Patients Think Placebo as Good as Albuterol for Asthma

Spike Mafford/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- A study published Monday showed that people’s expectations of feeling better after taking a pill -- even a sugar pill --  actually made them report a shorter duration of their common cold symptoms. Now a study from Brigham and Women's Hospital shows that a similar placebo effect exists for treatment of asthma.  

Thirty-nine patients were given an albuterol inhaler, placebo inhaler, sham acupuncture or no treatment for their asthma.  When the researchers measured lung capacity over a two-hour period following treatment, only albuterol had an effect: It increased lung capacity by 20 percent, compared to a seven-percent increase with the other “treatments." But, the patient’s self-reports of symptom improvement were very different from the lung capacity changes: albuterol inhaler, placebo inhaler and sham acupuncture all yielded about a 50-percent improvement compared with a 21-percent improvement in patients who did not get any treatment.  

The study's results illustrate that the placebo effect can be as effective as active medication in relieving perceived symptoms in patients with asthma.  But it also shows that from a clinical research perspective, patient self-reports can be rather unreliable.

The findings of this study are featured in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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