TUESDAY, June 14 (HealthDay News) -- Certain surgeries that
typically require the use of general anesthesia could be safely
performed with localized anesthesia in combination with hypnosis,
Belgian researchers suggest.
The finding stems from a pair of very small case-control studies
that explored the combo's potential during surgical procedures
performed for breast cancer patients and thyroid patients,
The studies revealed that, relative to general anesthesia, the
local anesthesia/hypnosis approach sped up the healing process,
reduced the need for post-surgery opioid drugs and reduced
"There is still a lot of debate around the exact mechanism that allows hypnosis to reduce pain perception," said study author and professor Fabienne Roelants in a European Anaesthesiology Congress news release, "but what is absolutely clear is that it does so."
She and her colleague noted that other researchers have used
brain imaging scans such as functional MRIs during hypnosis to
document a reduction in the perception of pain.
"Imagine you are driving your car," co-author Dr. Christine Watremez said in the same news release. "You suddenly realize how far you have driven, but for a long time your mind has been elsewhere. This is extremely common, and is nothing more, nor less, than a mild hypnotic trance, a modified state of consciousness, with a different perception of the world. The principle of hypnosis is to focus one's attention on one particular point."
"We believe that our studies have shown considerable benefits for the [local anesthetic]/hypnosis combination," Watremez added, "and that such benefits are not only for patients, but also for health-care systems. 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."
Watremez and Roelants are both from the department of
anesthesiology at the Cliniques Universitaires St. Luc (UCL) in
Brussels. They and their UCL colleagues presented the findings last
weekend at a meeting of the European Anaesthesiology Congress, in
Amsterdam. Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed
as preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed medical
The authors stated that the potential overall effectiveness of
hypnosis is not affected by either gender or age. Rather, patient
motivation, trust and willingness to undergo the hypnotic process
is key to its success.
In the breast cancer study, 18 women (out of 78 patients)
underwent hypnosis and local anesthetic for a range of surgeries
(partial mastectomy, sentinel node biopsy, or opening the armpit to
remove lymph nodes); the other 58 underwent general anesthesia for
the same operations. The thyroid study also involved 18
hypnosis/local anesthetic patients who underwent all or part of the
thyroid gland, comparing them with 36 patients who underwent
general anesthesia for the same surgery.
In both cases, the combo patients fared better in terms of
recovery time, hospital stay and opiate drug use.
"In addition to reducing drug use and hospital stay time, being able to avoid general anesthesia in breast cancer surgery is important because we know that local anesthesia can block the body's stress response to surgery and could therefore reduce the possible spread of metastases," explained Roelants.
Watremex added that "there are special precautions to be taken
-- for example, only the hypnotherapist should talk to the patient
during the procedure and should avoid negatives, which
unconsciousness cannot handle. And the surgeon needs to be gentle,
avoid any tugging in his movements, and be able to remain cool in
all circumstances -- it is a straightforward procedure and
appreciated by the patients."
Currently a third of all thyroid and breast cancer surgeries
performed at UCL rely on the local anesthetic/hypnosis combo. The
researchers suggest that the technique may also be applicable to a
wide range of additional procedures, including carotid artery
surgery, knee arthroscopy, gynecological surgery, plastic surgery
and egg retrieval for fertility treatment.
But, Dr. Daniel Sessler, professor and chair of the department
of outcomes research at The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, cautioned
that the current findings should not be viewed as conclusive.
"This is not a formal comparison of two anesthesiology options," he noted. "So, while on the one hand this legitimately shows that [the researchers] were able to use this hypnosis technique among particular patients -- and that for them it worked -- this is not a formal evaluation of hypnosis."
"So if the question is, 'Could hypnosis be useful in some select cases?', the answer is yes," Sesser said. "And to the extent that it does work for some patients, it is probably helpful and in the patient's best interest. But that is very different from saying that this is proof that hypnosis always works for all patients. We cannot say that at all from this [study]."
For more on hypnosis, visit the
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.