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Virtual reality, hypnosis may ease pain for IV insertion, stitches

Virtual reality glasses or hypnosis can relieve pain and anxiety in people having short medical procedures, a new study finds.

For those getting an IV catheter or stitches to close a wound, for example, these distraction techniques reduce the need for painkillers, say researchers in Belgium.

The study is by Dr. E. Kubra Okur Kavak and her colleagues from Brussels University Hospital. The results were presented online at the annual meeting of the European Society of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care.

“From the very start of the intervention, the application of either medical hypnosis or virtual reality glasses significantly reduced pain and anxiety in patients undergoing medical procedures,” the researchers said. It was not intended for any kind of surgery.

“More studies are needed but both are promising, safe extra tools to standard pharmacological treatment used during these simple but often painful medical procedures,” they said in a meeting news release.

The study involved more than 100 patients ages 6 to over 65. Patients were randomly assigned to standard pain medications, VR glasses or hypnosis before and during the procedure.

Kavak and her team found that VR glasses or hypnosis reduced pain and anxiety to levels where no painkillers were needed. No adverse side effects were seen and patients in the VR group were more likely to be satisfied than the other groups, researchers note.

Patients receiving hypnosis were distracted by continuous talk and positive suggestions to make them feel they were in another place doing something they liked.

The VR glasses provided visual and verbal distraction throughout the procedure. A calming voice and a cartoon movie delivered positive suggestions, similar to hypnosis.

The study findings were released Sunday. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until peer-reviewed for publication in a medical journal.

More information

For more on pain management, see the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

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