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Objective 2: Improve Care for Hard-to-Manage Symptoms

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Managing symptoms—particularly recurring or chronic symptoms such as back, neck, or joint pain, anxiety, headache, and insomnia—is challenging. Symptoms may change over time, and patients may experience multiple symptoms in clusters (e.g., pain, sleep difficulties, and mood changes) rather than a single symptom in isolation. Current approaches to symptom management often have limitations. Despite medical treatment, some patients continue to experience troublesome levels of symptoms and a diminished quality of life. Moreover, medications used to treat symptoms may have significant risks and side effects.

Expanding the knowledge base about how complementary health approaches may improve symptom management in both the short and long term is a priority for NCCIH. There is a growing body of basic and clinical research on complementary health approaches for symptom management that employs the methods, tools, and technology of neuroscience, psychoneuroimmunology, psychology, behavioral medicine, physical medicine, and biomechanics. For example, research studies have revealed that interventions such as meditation and acupuncture affect central mechanisms of pain perception and processing, regulation of emotion and attention, and placebo responses. Although not yet fully understood, these effects point toward scientifically plausible mechanisms—often unrelated to traditional explanations or hypotheses concerning their mechanisms of action—by which these interventions might be effective.