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Migraine Education could Reduce Pain

Update Date: Jan 08, 2014 02:06 PM EST

Migraines can be extremely excruciating to the point where performing daily errands becomes difficult. People who suffer from severe migraines often seek medical help. Even though medications can alleviate the pain, a new study found that learning about migraine medications could have a huge effect on the level of pain patients experience as well.

"This study untangled and reassembled the clinical effects of placebo and medication in a unique manner," stated Ted Kaptchuk, a Professor of Medicine and study author. "Very few, if any, experiments have compared the effectiveness of medication under different degrees of information in a naturally recurring disease. Our discovery showing that subjects' reports of pain were nearly identical when they were told that an active drug was a placebo as when they were told that a placebo was an active drug demonstrates that the placebo effect is an unacknowledged partner for powerful medications."

In this study, the team headed by researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) compared the effects of medication versus a placebo on people with a history of migraines. They recruited 66 people and studied seven separate migraine attacks, which totaled over 450 incidents. Some of the symptoms that came with the headaches were nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light or sound. The researchers discovered three key findings.

First, the researchers found that participants experienced greater benefits from taking the drug, Maxalt after being told that the drug was an effective option for treating acute migraine pain. Second, the researchers found that participants experienced improved symptoms from their migraines when they took placebo pills marked Maxalt. Third, participants who knew they were taking a placebo drug reported more pain relief than participants who received nothing at all.

"One of the many implications of our findings is that when doctors set patients' expectations high, Maxalt [or, potentially, other migraine drugs] becomes more effective," said Rami Burstein, Ph.D., the John Hedley-Whyte Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School (HMS). "Increased effectiveness means shorter migraine attacks and shorter migraine attacks mean that less medication is needed."

The study was published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine.

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