Patients suffering from migraine got better results from medication as well as placebo after receiving positive information about each therapy from their health-care provider.

To determine how the treatment information altered reported headache pain, investigators evaluated 459 episodic migraine attacks in 66 patients (seven separate migraine episodes per person). An initial attack with no treatment served as the control. In the six subsequent migraine attacks, patients received either rizatriptan (Maxalt) 10 mg or a placebo, administered under three different information conditions applied randomly.

Patients derived more benefit from the rizatriptan when they were told that they would be receiving a drug effective against acute migraine. 

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When rizatriptan labels were switched with labels for placebo pills, patients reported similar reductions in pain for each pill. 

In a third approach, patients were told outright that they would be receiving a placebo pill. They nonetheless reported more pain relief than they did when receiving no therapy at all. 

“The information provided to patients and the ritual of pill taking are important components of care,” concluded the researchers.


  1. Kam-Hanson S et al. Sci Transl Med. 2014;6[218]:218ra5.