The placebo effect and its determinants in fibromyalgia: meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials

Xi Chen, Kun Zou, Natasya Abdullah, Nicola Whiteside, Aliya Sarmanova, Michael Doherty, Weiya Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
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The aims of this study were to determine whether placebo treatment in randomised controlled trials (RCTs) is effective for fibromyalgia and to identify possible determinants of the magnitude of any such placebo effect. A systematic literature search was undertaken for RCTs in people with fibromyalgia that included a placebo and/or a no-treatment (observation only or waiting list) control group. Placebo effect size (ES) for pain and other outcomes was measured as the improvement of each outcome from baseline divided by the standard deviation of the change from baseline. This effect was compared with changes in the no-treatment control groups. Meta-analysis was undertaken to combine data from different studies. Subgroup analysis was conducted to identify possible determinants of the placebo ES. A total of 3912 studies were identified from the literature search. After scrutiny, 229 trials met the inclusion criteria. Participants who received placebo in the RCTs experienced significantly better improvements in pain, fatigue, sleep quality, physical function, and other main outcomes than those receiving no treatment. The ES of placebo for pain relief was clinically moderate (0.53, 95%CI 0.48 to 0.57). The ES increased with increasing strength of the active treatment, increasing participant age and higher baseline pain severity, but decreased in RCTS with more women and with longer duration of fibromyalgia. In addition, placebo treatment in RCTs is effective in fibromyalgia. A number of factors (expected strength of treatment, age, gender, disease duration) appear to influence the magnitude of the placebo effect in this condition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1623-1630
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Rheumatology
Issue number7
Early online date15 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2017


  • Fibromyalgia/physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Pain Management/psychology
  • Placebo Effect


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