Researchers found that simple distraction methods - such as engaging in a conversation with a nurse - reduced patients' anxiety and pain during conscious surgery.
To reach their findings, published in the European Journal of Pain, Prof. Jane Ogden and colleagues enrolled 398 patients who were due to undergo varicose vein surgery.
For this type of surgery, patients typically remain awake, receiving only a local anesthetic.
The researchers note that previously, patients have reported unfamiliar feelings, sounds and smells during the procedure. Some have also reported feeling a burning sensation, while others have said listening to conversations about the procedure between the surgeon and nurse makes them feel uneasy. Patients have also reported feeling anxious during the surgery.
The team randomly assigned the patients to receive one of four distraction techniques. One group listened to music during the surgical procedure, while another group chose a DVD to watch.
A third group had a nurse present throughout the procedure, who was instructed to engage the patients in conversation, while a fourth group was handed two palm-sized stress balls, which they were asked to squeeze whenever they felt anxious or anticipated pain.
Another group of patients underwent the varicose vein surgery as normal, without any distraction methods applied.
Once the surgery was over, all participants were asked to complete a questionnaire, from which the researchers gathered information on the levels of pain and anxiety they had experienced throughout the procedure.
Pain, anxiety reduced by up to 30%
Compared with patients who underwent the surgery without any distraction methods, those who engaged with a nurse during the procedure reported feeling 30% less anxiety. Watching a DVD was associated with 25% less anxiety, and the use of stress balls was linked to 18% less anxiety.
Patients who used stress balls reported experiencing 22% less pain during the procedure, while those who interacted with a nurse reported experiencing 16% less pain, compared with participants who underwent the surgery without distractions.
Music appeared to have no effect on patients' experience of anxiety or pain, while watching a DVD had no effect on pain.
Prof. Ogden says going through surgery while conscious can be stressful, but that their study suggests a patients' experience can be improved through simple distraction techniques. She adds:
"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."
Medical News Today recently reported on a study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, in which researchers claim the presence of a romantic partner during a medical procedure can intensify pain.