The word nocebo (from the Latin “nuocerò”) was chosen by Walter Kennedy, (1961). It indicates the opposite of the term placebo (from the Latin “piacerò”), which refers to a product that produces in an individual beneficial, healthy, pleasant consequences or tothe result of any ideas or expectations.
Behind this choice there is the theory that both negative and positive reactions are not chemically generated but are entirely due to pessimism or optimism about the effects of the fake drug.
The concept is now also extended to the negative effects of autosuggestion following any event erroneously perceived as harmful, such as for example in receiving a wrong medical report that diagnoses a non-existent disease, of which symptoms begin to manifest (pathomimia).
An example of nocebo effect is that of a patient frightened by the side effects of a certain drug, which has created many health problems for an acquaintance of his. When the doctor prescribes to the subject a drug identical in appearance, but pharmacologically inert, it is likely that the patient will complain of the same side effects reported by the acquaintance.
Hypochondriacs are the most common victims of nocebo. Their ability to really get sick by imagining all sorts of evil, which in reality are non-existent, causes the immune system to be strongly influenced by the psychological state of the subject. This is in turn affected by the production of cortisol and other hormones strictly dependent on the individual’s stress levels.
What is strucking is how our mind can decide whether to get sick or to heal without any apparent scientific reason!
Andrea Di Natale