Placebo and nocebo effects in itch and pain.Handb Exp Pharmacol 2014; 225:205-14HE
Physical complaints, such as pain, can be effectively altered by placebo and nocebo effects due to induction of positive or negative expectations. While verbal suggestion and conditioning are recognized as playing a key role in placebo and nocebo effects on pain, these mechanisms have barely been investigated with regard to other somatosensory sensations, such as itch. Results on contagious itch in both animals and humans suggest that itch sensations might be even more susceptible for placebo and nocebo effects than pain. Research on placebo and nocebo effects on pain and itch can further deliver insight into the common and specific mechanisms underlying these effects in different physical complaints. Work of our research group on verbal suggestions inducing nocebo effects demonstrated an important role of verbal suggestions with regard to itch, with stronger nocebo effects on itch than a comparable procedure for pain. Recent work also demonstrated that placebo and nocebo effects on itch sensations were most effectively induced by procedures that consist of both conditioning and verbal suggestion principles. This work adds to previous prospective studies showing that expectation mechanisms, such as preservative worrying about negative consequences, are relatively consistent predictors of future disease outcomes, including itch, in chronic somatic conditions. Future studies should focus on the specific psychoneurobiological mechanisms of placebo and nocebo effects in various physical sensations, to get insight into the common and specific effects and to contribute to the long-term and clinically relevant use of placebo effects in clinical practice.