Entender el efecto placebo

BOSTON – Para muchos investigadores médicos y partidarios de la ciencia pocas cosas son igual de inquietantes que el efecto placebo. ¿Cómo puede una inerte píldora de azúcar tener valor terapéutico? Para tener la respuesta hay que entender el contexto en torno a tratamientos médicos –un marco en el que símbolos y rituales de los servicios de salud se combinan con las intensas reacciones emocionales que surgen en los encuentros entre pacientes y terapeutas. No se debe minimizar la importancia que tienen la confianza, la empatía, la esperanza, el temor, la inquietud y la incertidumbre ante el tratamiento terapéutico.

Al usar píldoras de azúcar, inyecciones de solución salina o incluso falsas cirugías, la investigación sobre el placebo separa la atención médica de los efectos directos de medicamentos o procedimientos genuinos. Investigaciones recientes sobre el efecto placebo han demostrado que el simple encuentro clínico –sin el suministro de ningún medicamento “real” – puede aliviar el dolor, mejorar el sueño, apaciguar la depresión y mejorar los síntomas de una amplia variedad de enfermedades, incluidos el síndrome de intestino irritable, el asma, la enfermedad de Parkinson, las patologías cardiacas y la migraña.

Los placebos influyen principalmente en la autovaloración del paciente. No pueden reducir los tumores, pero sí pueden ayudar a los pacientes a experimentar menos fatiga, náuseas, dolor y ansiedad, que están asociados al cáncer y su tratamiento. No pueden disminuir el colesterol o bajar la presión sanguínea alta, pero pueden cambiar el estado de ánimo o dolor lo suficiente como para promover conductas más saludables.

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