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hypnosurgery

noun [uncountable]

surgical treatment in which the patient is sedated using hypnosis rather than traditional anaesthetics

'Hypnosurgery is being used all over the world and people say they have less post-operative pain and faster recovery.'

New Zealand Herald 11th April 2006

Imagine lying fully conscious on the operating table, about to go under the surgical knife, and simply being told: 'You will feel no pain …' This may sound bizarre, but this is exactly the principle behind the new concept of hypnosurgery, where hypnosis is used as an alternative to conventional anaesthesia. Under medical hypnosis, the patient is awake and the hypnosis allows them to control pain perception, a technique sometimes also referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnoanaesthesia.

advocates of hypnosurgery believe it has several benefits, including reducing blood loss

On 10th April 2006, the British television channel More4 broadcast a live hypnosurgery operation. Tom Hennigan, consultant surgeon at the Princess Royal Hospital in Farnborough, Kent, performed a hernia repair involving an incision in the groin. The procedure was carried out without any anaesthetic at all. To dull the pain, hypnotist John Butler induced a state of 'deep relaxation' in the unnamed patient for the duration of the 45-minute operation.

Advocates of hypnosurgery believe that it has several benefits, including reducing blood loss and post-operative nausea and vomiting. There is some evidence to suggest that it can result in a faster recovery, less post-operative pain and a shorter hospital stay. Hypnosurgery can reduce the risk of unnecessary complications occurring after major operations, such as chest infections which may be related to the anaesthetic or pain relief medication. It can also offer an alternative to people who are allergic to conventional anaesthesia.

Though hypnotism during surgery has not been fully embraced by the medical profession in the UK, it is widely used in other countries. Hypnotherapy for dental patients is also becoming increasingly popular.

Background – hypnosurgery

Hypnosurgery is, in fact, an old technique which is being revisited by doctors and surgeons in the 21st century. The use of hypnotism in surgery has a long history, and even accompanied the use of ether in the earliest medical operations. A 20th-century pioneer of the technique was the late Irish surgeon Jack Gibson, who in the 1950s and 1960s carried out hundreds of operations, including bone-setting, treatment for first-degree burns, plastic surgery and amputations, using just hypnosis to anaesthetise his patients.

On the model of words such as hypnosis or hypnotherapy, hypnosurgery includes the prefix hypno- which actually means 'relating to sleep'. It is based on the Greek hupnos (meaning 'sleep'). Though the term hypnosurgery is now in fairly wide use, there is as yet no substantial evidence for the related noun hypnosurgeon or adjective hypnosurgical.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 24th July 2006.

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