Telling the Truth About Pain: Informed Consent and the Role of Expectation in Pain Intensity

American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 9 (3):173-182 (2018)
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Abstract

Health care providers are expected both to relieve pain and to provide anticipatory guidance regarding how much a procedure is going to hurt. Fulfilling those expectations is complicated by the cognitive modulation of pain perception. Warning people to expect pain or setting expectations for pain relief not only influences their subjective experience, but it also alters how nociceptive stimuli are processed throughout the sensory and discriminative pathways in the brain. In light of this, I reconsider the characterization of placebo analgesia as pharmacologically inert and the use of it as deceptive. I show that placebo analgesia exploits the same physical mechanisms as proven analgesics and argue that it should be utilized to relieve pain. Additionally, I describe factors to help identify situations in which clinicians have the obligation to disclose the potential for pain coupled with ways of mitigating the risk of high-intensity pain by setting positive expectations.

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Nada Gligorov
Albany Medical College