The contributions of suggestion, desire, and expectation to placebo effects in irritable bowel syndrome patients. An empirical investigation

Pain. 2003 Sep;105(1-2):17-25. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3959(03)00073-3.


In order to investigate external factors that may influence the magnitude of placebo analgesia as well as psychological factors that mediate placebo analgesia, 13 irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) patients rated evoked rectal distension and cutaneous heat pain under the conditions of natural history (NH), rectal placebo (RP), rectal nocebo (RN), rectal lidocaine (RL) and oral lidocaine (OL). Patients were given verbal suggestions for pain relief and rated expected pain levels and desire for pain relief for both evoked visceral and cutaneous pain, respectively. Large reductions in pain intensity and pain unpleasantness ratings were found in the RP, RL and OL condition as compared to the natural history condition, whereas no significant difference in pain reduction between the three treatment conditions was found. Ratings during RN and NH were not statistically different. Compared to a previous study, which shows that rectal lidocaine reverses visceral and cutaneous hyperalgesia, these results suggest that adding a verbal suggestion for pain relief can increase the magnitude of placebo analgesia to that of an active agent. Since IBS patients rate these stimuli as much higher than do normal control subjects and since placebo effects were very large, they probably reflect anti-hyperalgesic mechanisms to a major extent. Expected pain levels and desire for pain relief accounted for large amounts of the variance in visceral pain intensity in the RP, RL, and OL condition (up to 81%), and for lower amounts of the variance in cutaneous pain intensity. Hence, the combination of expected pain levels and desire for pain relief may offer an alternative means of assessing the contribution of placebo factors during analgesia.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Administration, Rectal
  • Adult
  • Anesthetics, Local / administration & dosage
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Catheterization
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional / physiopathology*
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional / psychology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Lidocaine / administration & dosage
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Placebo Effect*
  • Placebos / administration & dosage
  • Rectum / physiopathology
  • Skin / physiopathology
  • Suggestion*


  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Placebos
  • Lidocaine