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Is a Placebo as Effective as Maxalt?

When the general media got hold of the study results about the efficacy of a placebo versus that of the triptan Maxalt, the reporting — and comments — inevitably became about thinking one’s way out of a migraine. Readers, and even some reporters, pointed out that of course a placebo works for migraine, but it wouldn’t work for a legitimate illness, like cancer or heart disease. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Starting from when we learn about it in grade school, the placebo effect gets oversimiplifed to: if you think a sugar pill is effective medicine, it will provide relief. The phenomenon is far more complicated than that. The placebo effect may have a positive-thinking element to it, but it also involves complex brain activity — in the physical brain, not the thinking mind — that’s only now starting to be understood. And it has shown to have an effect for all sorts of ailments, not just those that involve subjective reporting.

The placebo effect also involves information and patient empowerment, as Diana Lee explains in Placebo Effect & Migraine: What Does the Research Mean? It’s worth reading the entire insightful piece yourself, but here’s an excerpt:

Rather than demonstrating you can think your way out of experiencing the symptoms of a migraine attack, the results support the idea that how we talk about a treatment can increase the effectiveness of that treatment by 50 percent or more…. If we know a particular medication is likely to be effective for a migraine patient and couple that knowledge with a physician/patient discussion that empowers the patient with the same knowledge, this can only benefit patients.

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Terrific Migraine Blog: Somebody Heal Me

Somebody Heal Me is a migraine blog that I’ve been digging. A migraine sufferer for 25+ years, Diana also struggles with depression. She writes poignant personal posts, provides regular migraine news roundups and shares links to helpful resources.

Excerpts from some of my favorite posts:

Short Cuts
“Depression has pinned me under its weight, making my household responsibilities next to impossible to meet. Laundry, dirty dishes, pet care, errands and finances all suffer from my inattention.”

Depression Should Not Lead to Dismissal
“[F]urther stigmatizing those with depression and lumping them all together under the umbrella of “danger” isn’t going to do a darned thing to keep anyone safe or get people the help they need. It will do nothing more than discourage people from seeking out help and getting the treatment they so desperately need.”

Laughter
“I love to laugh. It is probably the only part of my uber depressed personality I’ve been able to retain, and I hope I never lose it.”

For other migraine and headache blogs, see the blogroll in the left-hand column. Send me a note if you know of any that I don’t have listed.