Placebo surgeries: what they are and how they benefit from suggestion

Surgeries are generally surgical procedures used to correct a physical alteration in the subject’s body.

However, there are other types of surgeries in which the effect of the suggestion is much greater than the operation itself performed. These are placebo surgeries. We will better understand what these approaches consist of, their usefulness and their level of effectiveness for certain types of patients.

    What are Placebo Surgeries?

    Placebo surgeries are a type of surgery in which the operation is completely simulated except for the essentials for the patient to believe it is real, Such as the generation of a scar, sedation or all the environmental elements of an operating room (gowns, protective equipment, etc.). The goal is for the person to believe they have had a real operation.

    But why would we want to simulate a surgical procedure instead of performing an actual one? This is where the usefulness of placebo surgeries comes in. The placebo effect usually consists of an improvement in the patient’s physical or mental condition after the administration of a harmless element which they believe is indeed beneficial. for his health.

    Therefore, what would generate the improvement would not be, in this case, placebo surgeries, but the expectations that the person themselves should feel a positive effect after this procedure. In other words, what improves the health of the patient is the suggestion generated by thinking that he is undergoing an operation intended to bring about a change for the better. Improve yourself because you think it will get better.

    Do Placebo Surgeries Work?

    The first problem we run into when we talk about placebo surgeries is that this is a phenomenon that has not yet been fully investigated. The reasons are obvious, and it is that for a question of ethics, it is not always possible to carry out a fictitious treatment to a person, by depriving the real intervention, to verify the usefulness of this one.

    However, some tests have been done to draw conclusions, always limited to the specific diseases present in these studies, so it cannot be safely extrapolated to other types of diseases. One of the most surprising cases took place in 2016, when a team from the University of Florida designed an intervention to treat a patient with Parkinson’s disease.

    This operation involved the implantation of a small cable whose purpose was to transmit electrical impulses to a specific area of ​​the brain. The point is that the doctors in charge of the case knew very well that the application of this cable was not physically relevant to treat Parkinson’s disease, but they made the patient believe the opposite.

    This placebo surgery was very successful and the person quickly noticed the improvement to the point of showing a visible reduction in their body tremors, caused by the disease. How was this possible? Because of the powerful suggestion he was subjected to. He was so convinced that they were going to make him improve with the operation that in fact they were.

    The effectiveness of placebo surgeries in patients with heart disease has also been observed. In this case, the study was conducted at Imperial College London. The researchers reached a group of two hundred patients with myocardial ischemia. Half of them underwent the usual surgery in these cases, while the other half simply claimed to perform it.

    The results were amazing: patients in the control group and those in the experimental group showed similar improvement. The conclusion, then, is that the suggestion is as powerful as a real surgery? Not exactly. The underlying problem is that doctors already suspected that this particular procedure was not as physically effective as initially thought.

    What they were actually demonstrating was that it was not the surgery that caused the improvement, but the patients’ expectations about the procedure. Therefore, when applying placebo surgeries, the positive effect was the same as in the other cases, showing that it was not necessary to perform a real physical intervention to achieve the desired improvement for the patient.

    Additional studies on the effectiveness of these operations

    But these are not the only studies that have been conducted in this regard to verify the effectiveness of placebo surgeries. Another example is the one published in the journal Scientific American in 2013. This article was a meta-analysis of 79 other studies that investigated the effectiveness of different placebo techniques in relieving headaches in patients.

    The conclusions were equally clear. Administration of harmless pills decreased pain in 22% of cases. Applying needles (acupuncture) in the form of a placebo worked for 38% of patients. But the most powerful solution of all that relied on this suggestion was the one that involved placebo surgery – that is, fake surgery. 58%, more than half, saw their constant migraines go away after the operation.

    Soon after, doctors at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford in England conducted a new meta-analysis, in this case of 53 studies of placebo surgery to treat knee disease. Almost three out of four patients experienced some improvement after undergoing placebo surgery and in addition, half of the total experienced just as positive sensations as those who were operated on to physically repair their damage.

    What conclusions do the experts draw from this? That there are certain interventions which, in light of the facts, are not as effective as previously thought and therefore prove to be unnecessary, due to the physical risk, albeit minimal, that any operation may involve. these they could be replaced by placebo surgeries, as the suggestion of their improvement is what generates it, in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

    However, another question arises, this time of an ethical nature. Is it fair for a doctor to mislead a patient about the treatment they should receive, based solely on the effects of the suggestion? It is a debate which escapes the data, but remains open to the reader’s reflection.

      Beyond placebo surgeries: the psychic surgery fraud

      Although all the examples we have seen so far belong to studies conducted by prestigious universities, where healthcare professionals strive to achieve the best results for the health of patients, there are other techniques. used by people of questionable reputation who, although they share injections with placebo surgeries, are not the same. This is called psychic surgery.

      This type of technique first appeared in the 1950s in the Philippines, although it later became popular in Brazil and even practiced in the United States., Always by gurus who had little doctors. These healers claimed to be able to perform psychic surgeries, operations where they did not use scalpels but with their own bare hands and apparently extracted malignant elements such as waste and even tumors from the body.

      The obviously fraudulent method gained popularity following television exhibitions and in particular thanks to the experience of American comedian Andy Kauffman, a patient with lung cancer, who believed to have improved after the one of those experiences, but died shortly thereafter. , for the state of his illness was devastating, and suggestion had no power to change in this case.

      Anyway, it must be clear that psychic surgeries and placebo surgeries are not the same. In the first case, there is clear evidence of fraud and deception for the sole purpose of benefiting the shaman, who is nothing but a crook. In In contrast, placebo surgery is a technique that uses the psychological power of suggestion to achieve physical improvement in the patient.

      In both cases, the lie is used, it is true. However, there is a clear difference in the intentionality of the technique and in who will benefit from it. This is why we do not have to apply the same category, because one is pseudotherapy and the other is a technique that can be very useful in improving the quality of life of some people who are suffering, Without using your pain to get an economic benefit in return.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Al-Lamee, R., Thompson, D., Dehbi, HM, Sen, S., Tang, K., Davies, J. (2017). Percutaneous coronary intervention in stable angina (ORBIT): a randomized, double-blind controlled trial. The Lancet.
      • Horng, S., Miller, FG (2002). Is Placebo Surgery Unethical? Mass Medical Soc.
      • Kaptchuk, TJ, Goldman, P., Stone, DA, Stason, WB (2000). Do medical devices have enhanced placebo effects? J Clin Epidemiol.
      • Wartolowska, K., judge, A., Hopewell, S. (2014). Use of placebo controls in the evaluation of surgery: a systematic review. BMJ.

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