Functional Movement Disorders and Placebo: A Brief Review of the Placebo Effect in Movement Disorders and Ethical Considerations for Placebo Therapy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

Background: Functional movement disorders are common and disabling neurologic conditions. Patients with functional neurologic disorders represent a large proportion of neurology clinic referrals, and limited availability of subspecialty care creates a considerable burden for the healthcare system. These conditions are currently treated with a combination of physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, with variable success. Methods: We searched the Medline database for studies on the epidemiology and physiology of functional movement disorders, as well as those on the placebo effect in movement disorders. We reviewed and summarized the literature on these topics and explored ethical issues concerning the administration of placebos to patients with functional movement disorders. Results: Studies of placebos, particularly in patients with movement disorders, have shown that these “inert” agents can provide demonstrable neurophysiologic benefits, even in open-label studies. Physician surveys have shown that many administer placebos for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, although there are ethical concerns about this practice. We used a principle-based approach and reviewed ethical arguments for (justice and beneficence) and against (non-maleficence and autonomy) the use of placebos in functional movement disorders. In this context, we argue for the importance of the therapeutic alliance in preserving patient autonomy while exploring the potential benefits of placebo therapy. Conclusions: An ethical argument is presented in support of nondeceptive clinical placebo use for the treatment of functional movement disorders. Patient and clinician attitudes regarding the use of placebos should be investigated before placebo-therapy trials are conducted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-478
Number of pages8
JournalMovement Disorders Clinical Practice
Volume5
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018

Keywords

  • ethics
  • functional movement disorder
  • placebo
  • psychogenic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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