Hypnosis and surgery

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: September 15th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Most people would balk at the idea of undergoing major surgery without receiving anesthesia. But a surprising number of patients are willing to swap conventional painkillers for old-fashioned hypnosis and a mild sedative.

It may seem like a step backward for modern medicine: after all, hypnosis was last popular in the eighteenth century, before the advent of surgical anesthesia. Later, the introduction of synthetic painkillers relegated hypnosis to something of a lost art, resurrected in magic shows but rarely encountered in the operating room.

In the past fifteen years, the medical community has begun revisiting the concept of mind over matter. Hypnosis is now used as a psychological painkiller for procedures ranging from cosmetic augmentation to liver biopsies and tumor excisions.

Patients undergo hypnosis before entering the operating room. Hypnotherapists remain on hand during surgery to swiftly refocus the patient’s mind if the trance is broken.

Some surgical patients opt for hypnosis and a mild sedative rather than enduring the nausea, fatigue and disorientation sometimes associated with general anesthesia. Other patients choose hypnosis because they’re allergic to conventional painkillers. And in certain cases, hypnosis keeps patients calm, alert and responsive during delicate procedures like insertion of deep-brain electrodes in Parkinson’s patients.

Stanford University physicians, writing in the Lancet, found that hypnotized patients feel less pain during minimally invasive surgery and experience fewer postoperative complications than patients receiving general anesthesia. As a result, hypnotized patients often return to work sooner, fostering peace of mind even once surgery is complete.