Half of U.S. Doctors Prescribe Placebos

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A whopping 50 percent of American doctors regularly give placebo pills to their patients without telling them, according to a new study.

Some doctors say what their patients don't know, won't hurt them. However other physicians say prescribing placebos is both dangerous and deceptive.

In the survey of nearly 800 internists and rhumetoligists, a placebo was defined as any treatment that would not necessarily help the patient.

Doctors have known for years that placebos work. Patients who take fake or ineffective drugs often improve, simply because they expect to get better.

Nevertheless, the American Medical Association advises against prescribing placebos.

"The possibility is that the doctor is deceiving the patient, and this is not fully telling the truth," said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the study's author. "And we know that one out of five of the cases the doctor says this is a medicine without qualifying it at all."

Placebo Treatment

In the survey, most doctors used actual medicines as a placebo treatment.

41 percent used painkillers, 38 percent used vitamins, 13 percent used antibiotics, 13 percent used sedatives, three percent used saline injections and two percent used sugar pills.

Some of the placebos have serious side effects.

"If you give things like antibiotics or sedatives that can be dangerous," Emanuel explained. "And that is something that is worrisome. An antibiotic can cause resistant bacteria which is something we're having problems with in this country. And if a patient gets a sedative, they might drive or they might cook and not be fully alert and that again, is another serious problem," he continued.

And it's not just happening in America. Studies out of Europe show doctors there also regularly prescribe placebos to their patients.

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