Being conscious during an operation can make patients feel anxious and is often painful, despite the use of a local anesthetic.

However, research from the University of Surrey has found that simple distraction techniques — such as talking to a nurse, watching a video or using stress balls — can help patients to relax during varicose vein surgery and reduce their pain.

smiling nurse in hospital

Four different distraction techniques

The study, published in the European Journal of Pain, analyzed 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 them throughout the procedure. The nurse was instructed not to touch the patient’s hand during surgery, but to try and engage them in conversation.

>> Headed for the OR? 5 questions to ask your surgeon first

In the fourth group, two palm-sized stress balls were given to participants once they were comfortably in place on the operating table. 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 through a short questionnaire filled in immediately after the operation.

Which distraction methods were the best?

The results showed that:

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  • The group that watched a DVD showed 25% less anxiety than those who received treatment as usual (but no differences for pain).
  • The group that interacted with a nurse showed 30% less anxiety and 16% less pain than those who received treatment as usual.
  • The group that used stress balls showed 18% less anxiety and 22% less pain than those who received treatment as usual.
  • 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 done with the patient awake, using a local anesthetic.

In addition, during this surgery, patients have previously experienced a burning sensation and have reported unfamiliar smells, sounds and feelings. As they are awake throughout, 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.

>> Post-op pain keeping you up? Your hospital stay may be longer

“Undergoing conscious surgery can be a stressful experience for patients,” says study author Professor 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.”

“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,” she says. “This could also include the great number of exploratory procedures, such as colonoscopies and hysteroscopies, which are all done while patients are conscious.”


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The Myria Editors

Myria, originally launched in 1998, strives to deliver more conversation, and less gossip. More intelligence, less eye-rolling. More acceptance, less judgment. And throughout the site: more needle, less haystack. Through life's ups, downs, and everything in between, we want to encourage you, support you, and help guide you. The team behind Myria understands that status updates and selfies never tell the whole story, and that we all have stuff to deal with, and that's nothing you need to hide here. Beyond "been there, done that" - every day, we're still there and still doing it. That's how we know: You've got this.


Photo credit(s): Photo thanks to Texas A&M University

Original publication date: January 30, 2015

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