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      Placebos without Deception: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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          Placebo treatment can significantly influence subjective symptoms. However, it is widely believed that response to placebo requires concealment or deception. We tested whether open-label placebo (non-deceptive and non-concealed administration) is superior to a no-treatment control with matched patient-provider interactions in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


          Two-group, randomized, controlled three week trial (August 2009-April 2010) conducted at a single academic center, involving 80 primarily female (70%) patients, mean age 47±18 with IBS diagnosed by Rome III criteria and with a score ≥150 on the IBS Symptom Severity Scale (IBS-SSS). Patients were randomized to either open-label placebo pills presented as “placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes” or no-treatment controls with the same quality of interaction with providers. The primary outcome was IBS Global Improvement Scale (IBS-GIS). Secondary measures were IBS Symptom Severity Scale (IBS-SSS), IBS Adequate Relief (IBS-AR) and IBS Quality of Life (IBS-QoL).


          Open-label placebo produced significantly higher mean (±SD) global improvement scores (IBS-GIS) at both 11-day midpoint (5.2±1.0 vs. 4.0±1.1, p<.001) and at 21-day endpoint (5.0±1.5 vs. 3.9±1.3, p = .002). Significant results were also observed at both time points for reduced symptom severity (IBS-SSS, p = .008 and p = .03) and adequate relief (IBS-AR, p = .02 and p = .03); and a trend favoring open-label placebo was observed for quality of life (IBS-QoL) at the 21-day endpoint ( p = .08).


          Placebos administered without deception may be an effective treatment for IBS. Further research is warranted in IBS, and perhaps other conditions, to elucidate whether physicians can benefit patients using placebos consistent with informed consent.

          Trial Registration

          ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01010191

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          Most cited references 19

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          The irritable bowel severity scoring system: a simple method of monitoring irritable bowel syndrome and its progress.

          The clinical assessment and investigation of irritable bowel syndrome would be greatly facilitated by the introduction of a simple, easy to use severity scoring system. Such a system, developed in our department over a number of years, has been submitted to validation in a total of 141 patients and 40 healthy controls. The system, incorporating pain, distension, bowel dysfunction and quality of life/global well-being, was assessed for its ability to reliably score patients previously classified as mild, moderate or severe. The reproducibility and sensitivity to change of the system was also assessed. The maximum achievable score was 500. Mild, moderate and severe cases were indicated by scores of 75 to 175, 175 to 300 and > 300 respectively. Controls scored below 75 and patients scoring in this range can be considered to be in remission. There was a highly significant difference between controls and patients as a whole (P = 0.0001) as well as significant differences (P < 0.01) between all severity categories. Scores repeated within 24 h were very reproducible and sensitivity to change was also extremely good (P < 0.001) with a change of 50 reliably indicating improvement. These results suggest that this scoring system should prove to be a valuable instrument in helping to meet the many challenges offered by irritable bowel syndrome.
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            AGA technical review on irritable bowel syndrome.

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              The impact of irritable bowel syndrome on health-related quality of life.

              Few data are available to evaluate health-related quality of life (HRQOL) of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). We evaluated and compared the impact of IBS on HRQOL using previously reported HRQOL data for the U.S. general population and for people with selected chronic diseases. Using the SF-36 Health Survey, we compared the HRQOL of IBS patients (n = 877) with previously reported SF-36 data for the general U.S. population and for patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), diabetes mellitus, depression, and dialysis-dependent end-stage renal disease (ESRD). On all 8 SF-36 scales, IBS patients had significantly worse HRQOL than the U.S. general population (P < 0. 001). Compared with GERD patients, IBS patients scored significantly lower on all SF-36 scales (P < 0.001) except physical functioning. Similarly, IBS patients had significantly worse HRQOL on selected SF-36 scales than patients with diabetes mellitus and ESRD. IBS patients had significantly better mental health SF-36 scale scores than patients with depression (P < 0.001). IBS patients experience significant impairment in HRQOL. Decrements in HRQOL are most pronounced in energy/fatigue, role limitations caused by physical health problems, bodily pain, and general health perceptions. These data offer further insight into the impact of IBS on patient functional status and well-being.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                22 December 2010
                : 5
                : 12
                [1 ]Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [2 ]Osher Research Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [3 ]Psychology Department, Endicott College, Beverly, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [4 ]Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [5 ]Department of Bioethics, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America
                [6 ]Department of Psychology, University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom
                University Paris Descartes, France
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: TJK JMK EK FGM IK AJL. Performed the experiments: AJL EF JMK MNS JPS MK. Analyzed the data: JMK AJL IK TJK MK JPS. Wrote the paper: TJK AJL JMK FGM IK EK.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Public Domain declaration which stipulates that, once placed in the public domain, this work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose.
                Page count
                Pages: 7
                Research Article
                Clinical Research Design
                Complementary and Alternative Medicine
                Drugs and Devices
                Primary Care
                Public Health



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