Beliefs about medication predict the misattribution of a common symptom as a medication side effect--Evidence from an analogue online study

Monika K Heller, Sarah C E Chapman, Rob Horne

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35 Citations (SciVal)


OBJECTIVE: Some perceived medication side effects may be 'normal' symptoms that patients misattribute to the medication. Using an analogue approach, we tested if medication beliefs predict whether participants misattribute a headache as a side effect and subsequently intend to stop medication.

METHODS: We recruited 690 participants, 223 reporting a past asthma diagnosis. They received information about asthma and Molair, a fictitious asthma treatment modeled on a licensed treatment (montelukast). We varied the description of efficacy and side effects (which did not include headache). Pre-exposure to this information, participants completed the Beliefs about Medicine Questionnaire (BMQ)-General and the Perceived Sensitivity to Medicines Scale (PSM), post-exposure they completed the BMQ-Specific. Participants were asked to imagine they experienced a headache while taking Molair. Finally, they rated whether the headache was a side effect (misattribution) and if they would stop taking Molair (behavioral intention).

RESULTS: Nearly a quarter (170) of participants misattributed the headache to Molair and 69 (10%) subsequently intended to stop Molair. Both outcomes were predicted by general and specific medication beliefs. Odds of misattribution (m) and behavioral intention (i) increased with higher General Harm (ORm=1.90, ORi=2.72), General Overuse (ORm=1.74, ORi=1.56) and Molair Concern beliefs (ORm=1.52, ORi=1.78, all p<.01), but decreased with General Benefit (ORm=0.72, ORi=0.53) and Molair Necessity beliefs (ORm=0.72, ORi=0.70, all p<.05).

CONCLUSION: Symptom misattribution and subsequent intentions to stop Molair were predicted by pre-exposure beliefs about medicines in general and post-exposure beliefs about Molair. Patients with negative medication beliefs may be prone to misattribute symptoms and subsequently stop medication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-529
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Psychosomatic Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • Acetates
  • Adult
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Asthma
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception
  • Quinolines
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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