(NEW YORK) -- The effects of hypnosis on reducing preoperative anxiety are well-documented. But increasingly, studies also support a role for hypnosis in reducing pain during and after surgery.
The technique, which starts with relaxation, can change a willing participant's mindset though softly spoken suggestions such as "You're doing this for your health," and "You're going to be fine."
The latest research, presented at the European Anesthesiology Congress in June, found that patients who were hypnotized before breast cancer surgery done under local anesthetic fared better than patients who were put under general anesthetic without hypnosis. Those who underwent hypnosis with a local anesthetic experienced a faster recovery, a shorter hospital stay, and had need for fewer painkillers.
Similarly, a 2007 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that patients who were hypnotized briefly before breast cancer surgery needed less anesthetic and had less pain, nausea, and fatigue after the procedure. The benefits even extended to the health care system, with a cost savings of $772.71 per patient, mainly due to reduced surgical time.
Dr. Michael Schmitz, director of pediatric pain medicine at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, Ark., described the state of anesthesia as consisting of four basic conditions: amnesia or loss of memory, analgesia or pain relief, sedation, and relaxation.
"Hypnosis is used to assist with the other parts of anesthesia not covered by the local anesthetic," said Schmitz, explaining that it can help patients enter a calm, relaxed state, during which discomfort is tolerable and quickly forgotten.
Not everyone is hypnotizable, however. Dr. Elliot Krane, director of pediatric pain management at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital adds that children are harder to hypnotize, and some faiths preclude followers from entering the trance-like state required for hypnotic suggestion. Even if the patient is a good candidate, the hospital may not be.
Hypnosis takes time, skill with hypnosis, and patience, as well as a quiet location," said Krane, "and these three elements are not commonly found in a busy operating room in most hospitals."
But Guy Montgemery, director of Mount Sinai School of Medicine's Integrative Behavioral Medicine Program and the author of the 2007 study hopes more research by him and others will encourage more hospitals to offer the service.
Even anesthesiologists like Krane and Schmidt said they'd give it a try.
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