Placebo prescriptions or fake treatments work for people who believe they are ill, and it can actually improve the patient's condition.

Are there actual cases where a placebo has improved the patient's condition? Most of the cases will be private, but I wish to see some of the cases that have been disclosed.

I googled examples of placebo effects and case reports. But I only could find how can placebo effects work for patients and cases in clinical trials. I couldn't find any actual cases.

I'd appreciate it if you could tell me one or two cases that placebo or fake treatment improved the patient's condition.

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    Welcome to Medical Sciences. Please take the tour and read How to Ask. For reasons mentioned in this post, we require some degree of prior research when asking questions. Please help us to help you and edit your question to provide more information on what you have read on this subject, what made you ask this question, and any problems you are having understanding your research. If you found nothing, what did you Google?
    – Carey Gregory
    Aug 22, 2021 at 2:51
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    @CareyGregory Thank you for your advice. I added what I've researched in advance to the question.
    – dani doco
    Aug 22, 2021 at 3:20
  • As @CareyGregory has asked, please can you edit your question to provide more information on what you have read on this subject, what made you ask this question, and any problems you are having understanding your research. This helps to provide an answer which will be more helpful. If you found nothing, what did you Google? Aug 22, 2021 at 5:50
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    I just tried to find actual case histories of placebo effect and to my surprise came up empty. Lots of articles about it, but not a single credible case history. I'm sure I will eventually find some, but I think this makes the question legit. +1
    – Carey Gregory
    Aug 22, 2021 at 5:59
  • Several problems with this question. "Improve the patients condition" is ill-defined. In placebo responders relief of pain or other symptoms has occurred countless times. Would you include this as "improved condition" ? Measurable physiological changes, such as increased heat rate, have been documented many times. Finally providing a patients identity is a violation of HIPAA privacy policy. Published studies in reputable journals do not name the subjects. What would you do with that information ?
    – dlemper
    Aug 23, 2021 at 4:13

1 Answer 1


Placebos are an extremely powerful treatment for many medical conditions. Although you have asked for case reports, a paper published in 2015 by Espay and colleagues in Neurology is one of my favorite papers of all time.

In it, the authors randomized participants with Parkinson disease (a neurologic disease characterized by tremor, slow movement and rigidity) to receive a placebo which they referred to as a "novel injectable dopamine agonist". One of the first line treatments for Parkinson disease is dopamine. Half were randomized to be told the drug was "cheap" and the other half were told it was "expensive". They assessed motor function and did some brain imaging blinded to the randomization status. Then they crossed the participants over to the other group (that is the cost branch they had not yet received) and repeated the process.

As can be seen in Figure 2, the "expensive" placebo, but not the "cheap" placebo significantly improved the motor function of the participants. There were also fMRI changes, but the results are more complicated.

Still, salt water that the participants thought was expensive actually made them tremor less and move more easily.

Think about that the next time you take some acetaminophen.

You don't state in your question the time scale you are interested in, but this is a report of 12 people with Parkinson disease who saw concrete benefits from placebo for a day.

  • I remember in my first year in private practice actually writing an Rx for "pink placebo" #30, i po q d. People didn't commonly know the term back then. Aug 24, 2021 at 3:06
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    Good answer, but the question isn't whether placebo effect is real. I don't think anyone is disputing that. It's a request for case histories. I'm rather surprised I couldn't find any and even more surprised that no one else has either.
    – Carey Gregory
    Aug 24, 2021 at 4:11
  • @CareyGregory - It's too common. It would be like a case report of an ear infection in a 4 year old. Case reports are mostly related to educating about uncommon things. E.g.: when I broke my leg, I also fractured my os peroneum, which was missed by my trauma orthopedist. It was only when I refused to leave the room without a diagnosis for the pain I had complained about for months, but was blown off, that they re-reviewed the CT scan and found the cause. It was through the few case reports that a successful treatment plan was arrived at. No one needs that for ear infection treatment. Aug 24, 2021 at 16:46
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    It's also a bit of a controversial subject in medical ethics right now. Aug 24, 2021 at 16:51
  • @anongoodnurse There are plenty of case histories of 4-year olds with ear infections, and I found a number of case studies of placebo effects I'll answer with when I find the time, and I get it that they don't get studied much because they're assumed to be givens, but none of that changes the question.
    – Carey Gregory
    Aug 25, 2021 at 4:34

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