HealthDay News — Open-label placebo (OLP) may have a beneficial effect for the treatment of functional abdominal pain or irritable bowel syndrome in children and adolescents, according to a study published online January 31 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Samuel Nurko, MD, MPH, from Boston Children’s Hospital, and colleagues conducted a multicenter crossover randomized clinical trial from July 1, 2015, to June 15, 2018, involving children and adolescents aged 8 to 18 years with functional abdominal pain or irritable bowel syndrome. Participants completed one week of observation and were randomly assigned to OLP for 3 weeks followed by a 3-week control period or a 3-week control period followed by 3 weeks of OLP. Participants took 1.5mL of an inert liquid placebo twice a day during the OLP period. Participants also were given a bottle of hyoscyamine pills to use as a rescue medication. Data were included for 30 patients: 16 and 14 with functional abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome, respectively.

The researchers found that compared with the control period, the mean pain scores were significantly lower during OLP treatment (39.9 vs 45.0; difference, 5.2). Compared with the OLP period, during the control period, patients took nearly twice as many hyoscyamine pills (mean number, 3.8 vs 2.0; difference, 1.8 pills).

“Our findings suggest that OLP may provide an ethical way to harness the placebo effect as a therapeutic tool in the clinic,” the authors write. “More research is required to confirm and extend these findings.”

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

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