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Friday, 28 April, 2000, 00:08 GMT 01:08 UK
Hypnotised patients 'feel less pain'

Hypnosis may help patients undergoing minor procedures
Giving patients a form of hypnosis helps them cope better with the pain and anxiety of minor operations, doctors have found.

Patients instructed in self-hypnotic relaxation had less pain, needed less pain-killing drugs and had better control over their blood pressure.

Elvira Lang and colleagues from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Boston, USA, studied 241 patients, a third of whom received self-hypnotic instruction.

Doctors are keen to cut the quantity of sedatives and narcotics patients need, as they can cause various physical problems during operations.

Deep breaths

The techniques in the study included telling the patient to relax all their muscles one by one, and count backwards from 100.

Some patients were also told to roll their eyes upwards, breathe deeply, and concentrate on a sensation of floating. They were also told to focus on a "safe and pleasant" experience.

All the patients in the study, whether receiving hypnosis or simply standard treatment, were given access to self-controlled painkilling drugs during the operations.

Elvira Lang helps to relax another patient (photo courtesy of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center)
The procedures involved were not major "open" operations, but invovled the insertion of probes into blood vessels.

Despite the time it took to instruct patients in the techniques, the fact that patients under hypnosis were less restless meant that they actually spent less time - 17 minutes on average - in the operating theatre.

However, it is not clear whether the patient benefits found in the study were the result of actual hypnosis or simply deep relaxation triggered by the techniques.

Dr Peter Wallace, a consultant anaesthetist from the Western Infirmary in Glasgow, said that anything which reduced the need for drugs would be welcome.

He said: "The concept of relaxation techniques for patients undergoing this sort of procedure is well-established.

"I'm not sure whether there is any real difference between these and hypnosis, but certainly, the results here in terms of reduced need for sedatives is quite remarkable."

However, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Professor Leo Strunin, said that many hospital departments carrying out these procedures were too stretched to spare the time to teach such hypnosis techniques.

He said: "The problem is that they are so unpredictable - they may work for some people but not for others."

The research was reported in the Lancet medical journal.

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See also:

23 Apr 99 | Health
The power of mind over matter
24 Apr 99 | Health
Hypnotising the pain away
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