HEALTHY LIVING
04/13/2014 09:17 am ET Updated Apr 13, 2014

Thinking Of A Happy Place Might Help Reduce Pain

Martin Barraud via Getty Images

Visualizing a safe place could help lessen pain during a medical procedure, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined the efficacy of visualization techniques during ablation of atrial fibrillation, a procedure that involves inserting a catheter with an electrode at the end of it into the body to destroy parts of the heart responsible for atrial fibrillation.

They examined 76 patients who used visualization techniques and 71 patients who received conventional care. The procedure took two to four hours, and all participants in the study also received local anesthesia, as well as painkillers that were administered by a nurse when they pushed a button. The participants were asked about their pain and anxiety every 15 minutes.

The patients who were in the visualization group were asked to "describe a comfortable safe place they want to be during the procedure. People have chosen a summer house, the beach, or the woods," study researcher Marianne Wetendorff Nørgaard, a clinical nurse specialist at Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, said in a statement. "During the procedure the nurse asks the patient to focus on their safe place and how it looks, smells and sounds."

And when a patient felt pain during the procedure, the nurse helped the patient to use visualization to provide an alternative reason for the pain.

"For example, if the patient says 'my chest is burning', the nurse may say 'imagine that it's a cold day and there is ice on your chest,'" Nørgaard explained in the statement. "Patients tell us that being in this trance like state with safe images makes the procedure a pleasant experience and it feels shorter."

Researchers found that the patients who were in the visualization group reported being in pain fewer times and requested fewer painkillers with the push button. However, researchers did not find that pain intensity or anxiety differed between those who employed visualization techniques and those who didn't.

The findings were presented at EuroHeartCare 2014; because they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be considered preliminary.

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