The placebo effect in irritable bowel syndrome trials: a meta-analysis

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2005 Jun;17(3):332-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2005.00650.x.


Background: Despite the apparent high placebo response rate in randomized placebo-controlled trials (RCT) of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), little is known about the variability and predictors of this response.

Objectives: To describe the magnitude of response in placebo arms of IBS clinical trials and to identify which factors predict the variability of the placebo response.

Methods: We performed a meta-analysis of published, English language, RCT with 20 or more IBS patients who were treated for at least 2 weeks. This analysis is limited to studies that assessed global response (improvement in overall symptoms). The variables considered as potential placebo modifiers were study design, study duration, use of a run-in phase, Jadad score, entry criteria, number of office visits, number of office visits/study duration, use of diagnostic testing, gender, age and type of medication studied.

Findings: Forty-five placebo-controlled RCTs met the inclusion criteria. The placebo response ranged from 16.0 to 71.4% with a population-weighted average of 40.2%, 95% CI (35.9-44.4). Significant associations with lower placebo response rates were fulfillment of the Rome criteria for study entry (P=0.049) and an increased number of office visits (P=0.026).

Conclusions: Placebo effects in IBS clinical trials measuring a global outcome are highly variable. Entry criteria and number of office visits are significant predictors of the placebo response. More stringent entry criteria and an increased number of office visits appear to independently decrease the placebo response.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Placebo Effect*
  • Population
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Research Design