Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 10-15% of people around the world. It is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder with symptoms including abdominal pain, discomfort, diarrhoea and constipation. Most medications are used to treat these symptoms independently of each other and few treatments relieve the symptoms of IBS as a whole (Drossman et al. 2010). Studies have demonstrated that there is a substantial, clinically significant placebo effect for IBS. This then led Harvard researchers to investigate if using placebo for IBS could be both ethical and effective.
Placebos are widely used in medical practice, although the exact numbers are not known. Surveys have shown that somewhere between 57-97% of doctors admit to using placebos in their clinical practice. Placebos would not be used so prevalently if they did not have positive effects, but it's vitally important that placebos are used as ethically as possible to avoid harming the doctor-patient relationship. Here, we outline different types of placebo usage, the ethical considerations and the current medical guidelines for placebos in clinical practice.