A brain imaging study carried out at Oxford has shown that patients’ prior expectations can significantly alter their responses to pain-relief drugs.

The research into the placebo effect, and its opposite, the nocebo effect, led by Professor Irene Tracey, showed all of the impact of a drug  could be undermined by poor expectations of pain relief beforehand.

Equally, when patients mistakenly believed that the dosage of pain relief had been increased, brain imaging scans showed that they really did experience less pain, despite constant administration of pain relief drugs.

The researchers have proposed that doctors confront patients’ beliefs and expectations before they administer a drug, in order to optimise the outcome of the treatment.