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Review: placebo is better than no treatment for subjective continuous outcomes and for treatment of pain

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QUESTIONS: In patients with various clinical conditions, what is the clinical effect of placebo as a treatment for disease? Does the effect differ for subjective and objective outcomes?

Data sources

Trials published before the end of 1998 were identified by searching Medline, EMBASE/Excerpta Medica, PsycLIT, Biological Abstracts, and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register. The search terms were synonyms of placebo, no treatment, and randomised clinical trial. Reference lists of included trials and selected review articles and books were reviewed, and experts were contacted.

Study selection

Studies were selected if patients were randomly allocated to a placebo group or an untreated group. Exclusion criteria were unconcealed randomisation, sample of paid or healthy volunteers, non-blinding of assessors of objective outcomes, >50% dropouts, or if the alleged placebo had a clinical effect not associated with the …

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