Doctors really feel the patients’ pain

Doctor and PatientResearchers have found that doctors literally feel the pain of the patients.

This research has been published online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Researchers in this study did brain scans, through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), of the doctors while they were working with the participants or patients. They found that the doctors not only feel the pain of the patients but also feel the relief after the treatment of the patient. They made their conclusion on the basis of the activation of the region of the brain that is usually involved in the placebo response.

“Our findings showed that the same brain regions that have previously been shown to be activated when patients receive placebo therapies are similarly activated in the brains of doctors when they administer what they think are effective treatments,” said first author Karin Jensen, Ph.D.

Researchers have also found that the brain part related to satisfaction also showed more activity in the physicians, who reported more close association with the patients. So, the physicians feel more comfort and satisfied after patients’ treatment.

“By demonstrating that caring for patients involves a complex set of brain events, including deep understanding of the patient’s facial and body expressions, possibly in combination with the physician’s own expectations of relief and feelings of reward, we have been able to elucidate the neurobiology underlying caregiving,” said senior author Ted Kaptchuk, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“Our findings provide early evidence of the importance of interacting brain networks between patients and caregivers and acknowledge the doctor/patient relationship as a valued component of health care, alongside medications and procedures.”

“We suggest that physician treatment involves neural representations of treatment expectation, reward processing and empathy, paired with increased activation in attention-related structures. Our findings further the understanding of the neural representations associated with reciprocal interactions between clinicians and patients; a hallmark for successful treatment outcomes.” Researchers wrote.


K B Jensen, P Petrovic, C E Kerr, I Kirsch, J Raicek, A Cheetham, R Spaeth, A Cook, R L Gollub, J Kong and T J Kaptchuk, (2013). Sharing pain and relief: neural correlates of physicians during treatment of patients. Molecular Psychiatry, doi: 10.1038/mp.2012.195

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