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'Placebo Effect' May Be Common in Headache Treatment

Study Shows Many Patients Feel Better Even When Their Medicine Is Just a 'Dummy Pill'

Second Opinion

Chicago-based neurologist Merle Diamond, MD, who is managing director of the Diamond Headache Clinic, says she is not surprised by the findings.

"We don't really understand why, but placebo treatments do work," she says, adding that under certain circumstances dummy pills might have a place in clinical practice.

"Some people say they should never be prescribed, but I believe that if it works for someone there is little harm," she says. "There is still a lot we don't understand about headaches.

Diamond says non-drug approaches that were once considered alternative are now widely used because they work for many patients. These therapies include biofeedback, acupuncture, physical therapy, meditation, and even Tai Chi.

Likewise, simple lifestyle changes, such as eating regular meals, having a regular sleep schedule, avoiding trigger foods and limiting caffeine can help modify response to pain.

"I still see patients who drink coffee or other drinks with caffeine all day long and wonder why they can't sleep and are having headaches," she says. "Lifestyle is very important. It is important to fix what is fixable."

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