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Ablation patients 'feel less pain' if put in trance by nurses

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Visualising a “safe place” helps patients reduce pain while undergoing procedures, according to a complementary health study by Danish nurse researchers.

They guided patients into a trance and found it helped patients cope with pain and anxiety during ablation of atrial fibrillation.

Marianne Wetendorff Nørgaard, lead author and a clinical nurse specialist at Copenhagen University Hospital, said: “We ask patients to describe a comfortable safe place they want to be during the procedure.

“People have chosen a summer house, the beach, or the woods. During the procedure the nurse asks the patient to focus on their safe place and how it looks, smells and sounds.”

“Extra nurses are not needed in the operating room, you just need to train the ones already there”

Marianne Wetendorff Nørgaard

She added: “When the patient expresses pain, the nurse helps the patient visualise an alternative scenario to the invasive procedure. 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’. Patients tell us that being in this trance like state with safe images makes the procedure a pleasant experience and it feels shorter.”

The study1 compared outcomes between 76 patients who used visualisation and 71 patients who received conventional care.


All patients were awake during the two to four hour treatment and received local anaesthesia plus painkillers when they signalled the nurse using a push button. During the procedure patients scored their pain and anxiety levels every 15 minutes and after specific painful experiences.

Ms Nørgaard said: “Patients who used visualisation expressed pain fewer numbers of times and asked for less painkillers.”

A follow-up investigation2 explored in more detail the experiences of 14 patients who had used visualisation during the clinical study using interviews.

“Patients told us that visualising their own safe place during the procedure made them feel involved and helped them cope with pain and anxiety, said Ms Nørgaard.

Regarding the visualising process itself, she added: “Extra nurses are not needed in the operating room, you just need to train the ones who are already there.”

The follow-up study was presented this week at EuroHeartCare, the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology’s Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Allied Professions.

  1. EuroHeartCare13 Abstracts (see page 179)
  2. Pacing and Clinical Electrophysiology (2013) 36: 203-213
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