Surgical Tribune Europe

Simple distraction interventions can ease pain and anxiety during surgery

By Surgical Tribune
February 25, 2015

GUILDFORD, UK: Being conscious during an operation can make patients feel anxious and is often painful. However, new research from the University of Surrey has found that simple distraction techniques, such as talking to a nurse, watching a DVD or using stress balls, can help patients to relax during varicose vein surgery and reduce their pain.

The study analysed 398 patients, splitting them into four groups. The first group was played music during their surgery, while the second was offered a choice of DVD to watch from a wall-mounted monitor. In the third group, a dedicated nurse was positioned next to the patient’s head to interact with him or her and engage him or her in conversation throughout the procedure. In the fourth group, two palm-sized stress balls were given to participants and they were instructed to squeeze these whenever they were feeling anxious or if they anticipated or experienced any uncomfortable sensations.

Anxiety and pain levels were measured via a short questionnaire filled in immediately after the operation. The results showed that the group that watched a DVD experienced 25 per cent less anxiety than patients who received treatment as usual, but found no differences in pain. The group that interacted with a nurse showed 30 per cent less anxiety and 16 per cent less pain compared with patients who received treatment as usual. The group that used stress balls experienced 18 per cent less anxiety and 22 per cent less pain than patients who received treatment as usual. However, music did not have any effect on anxiety or pain.

This is the first study to examine the effect of simple distraction techniques on patients undergoing varicose vein surgery. The team of researchers focused on this type of surgery, as it is usually performed with the patient awake, using a local anaesthetic. In addition, during this surgery, previous patients have experienced a burning sensation and have reported unfamiliar smells, sounds and feelings. They have also reported overhearing conversations between the surgeon and nurse containing upsetting details about the surgery. Although the procedure is highly effective and safe, patients often experience anxiety, as they are fully aware of everything that is happening.

“Undergoing conscious surgery can be a stressful experience for patients,” said study author Prof. Jane Ogden from the University of Surrey. “Finding ways of making them feel more comfortable is really important. The use of simple distraction techniques can significantly improve patient experience,” Ogden stated.

“Our research has found a simple and inexpensive way to improve patients’ experiences of this common and unpleasant procedure, and could be used for a wide range of other operations carried out without a general anesthetic. This could also include the great number of exploratory procedures, such as colonoscopies and hysteroscopies, which are all done while patients are conscious,” explained Ogden.

The study, titled “Randomized controlled trial to compare the effect of simple distraction interventions on pain and anxiety experienced during conscious surgery”, was published online ahead of print in the European Journal of Pain on 30 January.

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