FYI Daily

Patient Perception May Influence Course of Illness

Last updated: Jan 30, 2012

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A new study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science asserts that how you perceive an illness may have a substantial effect on your health outcomes.

Keith Petrie, of the University of Auckland, and John Weinman, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, reviewed the current literature on illness and perception. According to an Association for Psychological Sciences press release, they found that a patient's perceptions can influence everything from day-to-day functioning to long-term treatment plans.

If, for example, you don't think a medication is working, you might stop taking it even though your doctor thinks it's the best treatment for you. "A doctor can make accurate diagnoses and have excellent treatments, but if the therapy doesn't fit with the patient's view of their illness," Petrie said, "they are unlikely to keep taking it." Based on that, Petrie thinks that a medication you think is unlikely to work probably is unlikely to work, at least in part because of your negative perception of the treatment.

That doesn't mean that thinking positive thoughts will cure you of any illness, and it doesn't mean that your discomfort is all in your head. On the other hand, it's probably a good idea to talk to your doctor about your perceptions of your health conditions at your next appointment, just to make sure they line up with his or hers. Otherwise, you might unintentionally be making things harder for yourself.