Researchers: Hypnosis can help during surgery

Using a combination of hypnosis and local anesthesia for certain types of surgery can aid the healing process and reduce drug use and time spent in the hospital, anesthesiologists have found.

Belgian researchers studied the impact of using local anesthesia and hypnosis in certain kinds of breast cancer surgery and in thyroidectomy. In the first study, 18 women out of 78 underwent hypnosis for a number of breast cancer surgical procedures — quadrantectomy, sentinel node biopsy and axillary dissection — while the rest underwent general anesthetic for the same operations.

Although the patients who were hypnotized spent a few minutes more in the operating theater, opioid drug use in the first group was greatly diminished, as was time in the post-anesthesia care unit and hospital stay.

In the thyroid study, the researchers compared the outcomes of 18 patients in the local anesthesia/hypnosis group with 36 who had general anesthesia. Both groups had video-assisted thyroidectomy, in an attempt to decrease the invasiveness of the procedure without reducing patient comfort. Once again drug use, PACU and hospital stay times were significantly reduced among the local anesthesia/hypnosis group.

“Together with other anesthesiologists at the hospital, we are specialized in hypnosis,” one of the researchers, Dr. Christine Watremez, with the Department of Anaesthesiology at the Cliniques Universitaires St. Luc, UCL in Brussels, said in a news release. “Although there are special precautions to be taken … it is a straightforward procedure and appreciated by the patients.

That hypnosis works in reducing the perception of pain has been shown in a number of studies, including by imaging the brain with position emission tomography. Similar effects have been shown by using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Exactly how hypnosis works in this respect is still under discussion.

“There is still a lot of debate around the exact mechanism that allows hypnosis to reduce pain perception,” one of the researchers, professor Fabian Roelants, said in the news release. “But what is absolutely clear is that it does so. The result is that one third of thyroidectomies and a quarter of all breast cancer surgery carried out at the UCL hospital are performed under local anesthetic with the patient under hypnosis.”

There are no sex or age differences relating to susceptibility to hypnosis, the researchers said. If the patient is motivated, ready to cooperate and trusts the clinicians, the researchers said, the hypnosis will work. In addition to use in breast cancer surgery and thyroidectomy, the practice can be used in a number of other surgical procedures.

“We believe that our studies have shown considerable benefits for the local anesthetic/hypnosis combination, and that such benefits are not only for patients, but also for healthcare systems,” Watremez said. “By using hypnosis combined with local anesthetic we can reduce the costs involved in longer hospital stays, remove the need for patients to use opioid drugs, and increase their overall comfort and satisfaction levels.”

The research was presented Sunday at the European Anaesthesiology Congress in Amsterdam and should be considered preliminary until it is accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

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