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The BBC's Kirsty Wark
"One day we'll all be cool calm and collected"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Operation to cure blushing
Surgery involves cutting a nerve
Surgeons have developed an operation to cure blushing.

One in ten people suffer from inappropriate blushing in situations most would not consider embarrassing.

Severe cases are diagnosed as suffering from a social phobia.

This is a major step forward in treating what is really very disabling for the person who suffers

Anthony Mitra, Highgate Private Hospital

The psychological causes of extreme shyness may take a long time to overcome.

But doctors can now tackle the physical symptoms of the problem.

Joanna is one of the first people to undergo pioneering surgery to reduce her symptoms.

She told the BBC: "My blushing was a problem from my early school days.

"A teacher would ask me a question and I would just go bright red and stammer, and not be able to answer it."

Blushing is basically overheating when a person feels anxious or embarrassed.

The capillaries near the surface of the skin that transport blood enlarge to create a cooling mechanism.

But this turns the face red, and the sufferer becomes more embarrassed and even redder, creating a vicious circle.

The new keyhole surgery involves making an incision in the armpit and severing a nerve in the sympathetic nervous system. This stops the patient feeling anxious and therefore they no longer blush.

Mr Anthony Mitra, surgical director of the Highgate Private Hospital, London, said: "This is a major step forward in treating what is really very disabling for the person who suffers."

Positive attribute

Historically blushing was seen as attractive
In the 18th and 19th century was seen as a positive attribute for women, indicating a demure disposition.

But clinical psychologist Professor Robert Edelmann, says things have now changed.

"Within modern day society we like to present ourselves as competent people.

"Blushing is seen as a sign of social ineptness or incompetence, so it is something we wish to avoid doing."

Professor Edelmann said nobody knew what the long-term impact of the surgery would be.

"Secondly, there is clear evidence that psychological therapies to deal with the underlying anxiety are effective in treating such people."

However, Joanna says the operation has improved her life.

"I can go out and move down to London socialising with my friends. I have really come out of my shell."

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13 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Anxiety disorder
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