Power of the Mind Improves Surgical Outcomes

Worrisome statistics about risks of complications during and after surgery continue to rise. So it was very good news when a recent study from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City found that surgery patients who received hypnosis an hour before their operation realized many benefits — for instance, they required less anesthesia, spent less time in the OR and suffered less pain in recovery.

The study randomized 200 women facing lumpectomy or biopsy surgery for breast cancer. Each woman met with a psychologist for 15 minutes within the hour of surgery — half received non-directed empathetic listening, while the other half received hypnosis with relaxation techniques and suggestions for visual imagery. Under hypnosis the women were given suggestions that they would have less pain, nausea and fatigue. The anesthesiologists monitored patient needs and responses without knowing which women had been hypnotized. The results were telling.

Hypnosis patients required lower amounts of anesthesia drugs during the procedure and they spent nearly 11 fewer minutes in the OR (saving the OR $772.71 on average per patient). Post-surgery the women reported less intense pain, nausea, fatigue, discomfort and emotional upset. That is an impressive list of benefits, and it prompted me to call the study author, Guy H. Montgomery, PhD, of the department of oncological studies at Mount Sinai.

Dr. Montgomery says that the connection between anxiety and pain is well documented — when people are less anxious they report having less pain. He adds that the expectations people carry into surgery are also important in how they respond — with the expectation that the experience would be tolerable, as was suggested to the women by hypnosis, the better the outcome. He and his team are now investigating the effect of pre-surgery hypnosis on lengthier surgeries, in this case mastectomy with reconstruction. Thus far results are promising, he says. Nurse anesthesiologists are also being trained to do hypnosis, to see how well that may work. He reports that OR staffers are supportive, saying that pre-surgery hypnosis patients are calmer and easier to prepare for surgery, including the induction of anesthesia.

Dr. Montgomery is hopeful that hypnosis may soon be used regularly as a simple but important tool among the high technology of the operating arena.