Hypnosis May Relieve Pain, Cut Reliance on Morphine at Atrial Flutter Ablation

Daniel M. Keller, PhD

July 08, 2020

Hypnosis during catheter ablation for atrial flutter (AFlut) seemed to significantly improve perceived levels of pain and curb reliance on morphine, compared with standard relaxation techniques used as a control, in a small randomized trial.

Ablation is typically performed using conscious sedation and "requires sometimes very high dosages of morphine, and there are sometimes some complications, blood pressure drop, or oxygen desaturation," Rodrigue Garcia, MD, Poitiers University Hospital, France, told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.

But patients in the study assigned to undergo hypnosis during the AFlut ablation, performed by practitioners hailing from the French Hypnosis Association, consistently perceived significantly less pain throughout the procedure than those in the active-control group.

They also used almost two-thirds less morphine, which was available to both groups on demand, reported Garcia, who presented the results of the PAINLESS study at the European Heart Rhythm Association 2020 virtual congress. The annual meeting was conducted online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hypnotism for pain control may not be widely available in hospitals, "but it's becoming more and more frequent in the different centers, especially in France," he said when interviewed.

The technique is probably also suitable for catheter ablation of ventricular tachycardia, Garcia said, and "we already use it for atrial fibrillation ablation, because it's a very common procedure and because, in France, for example, there is a lack of anesthesiologists." One limitation of hypnosis for such procedures, he said, is that it requires a practitioner with a lot of training and experience.

The current study "I think is one of the few, if not the first, randomized trial on this topic, at least for flutter," Elena Arbelo, MD, PhD, MSc, Hospital Clinic of Barcelona and the University of Barcelona, Spain, said for theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.

"I thought it was very interesting. Many centers have the issue of not having anesthesiology support for their procedures. We have the option of having anesthesiology with us only a few days a week," said Arbelo, who is not an investigator with the study.

"If it's validated in larger cohorts and in different cultures, it may be an interesting way of reducing the need for anesthesiology support, which is a main issue. I know for sure in Europe," she said, that "some centers do struggle to have anesthesiology support for their EP procedures."

The single-center trial randomized adults slated to undergo cavotricuspid isthmus ablation (n = 116) for AFlut to receive hypnosis or a control procedure, consisting of nonhypnotic relaxation suggestions and white noise delivered through earphones — 56 and 57 patients, respectively, after exclusion of several who ultimately did not undergo ablation. Any patient could receive 1 mg of morphine if self-reported pain was 5 or greater on a 10-point visual-analog scale, or simply on demand.

The hypnosis and control groups were predominantly male and well matched for age (mean, about 69 years in both groups), prevalence of atrial fibrillation, and left ventricular ejection fraction (about 55% for both). Also, in both groups, the procedure duration was approximately 36 minutes.

Asked if all patients in the hypnosis group were actually hypnotized, Garcia said, "That's a tricky question" because there was no prespecified definition for successful hypnosis. Between 70% and 80% achieved a hypnotized state, he estimated.

Hypnosis was superior to the control intervention for the primary outcome of pain self-assessment during the ablation procedure, as recorded 45 minutes after ablation. Also, using 10-point visual analog scale, the hypnosis group rated the average pain intensity as 4.0, whereas the control group rated it as 5.5 (P < .001).

Similarly, instantaneous pain intensity, rated on a 10-point scale every 5 minutes, was lower throughout the procedure for the hypnosis patients than for the control patients (P < .05 at all assessments). Maximum pain intensities, which occurred at the 15 minute to 25 minute points, were no greater than 3 for hypnosis patients and peaked at approximately 5 for the control patients.

Two of three secondary end points favored the hypnosis group. Morphine consumption averaged 1.3 mg, compared with 3.6 mg for the control group (P < .001). Observer-assessed degrees of sedation were 8.3 and 5.4, respectively, on a 10-point scale (P < .001). And patient self-assessment of anxiety during the procedure was 1.5 in the hypnosis group and 2.5 in the control group on a similar scale.

Regarding morphine use in the two groups, Garcia said, "It was more than 2 mg of difference, and this can be very important, especially in certain types of patients," such as those with compromised lung function.

All six complications (11%) observed during the study occurred in the control group. there were four severe hypotensive episodes, one case of oxygen desaturation, and one case of pericardial effusion (P = .03 vs the hypnosis group).

After pointing out the substantial risk for adverse events associated with deep analgesia, particularly from the use of opiates, Paulus Kirchhof, MD, PhD, said, "I think it's a clinically relevant topic, in the context of reducing the risk of ablation procedures, to try to minimize the use of opiates or other strong anesthetics."

A multicenter trial could be the next step, said Kirchhof, from the University Heart and Vascular Center UKE Hamburg, Germany. That would potentially provide "the first evidence for me that this is not sort of something that works in one specific setting, but that it is transferable to other centers, other countries, where practices and complication rates of analgosedation may be different."

Kirchhof praised the study design for comparing hypnosis with an active standard-of-care control group. "That is one of the strengths of the study; they tried to design it in a way that didn't disadvantage the control group."

The study was funded by the University Hospital of Poitiers. Garcia and Arbelo reported no conflicts of interest. Kirchhof reported support for basic, translational, and clinical research projects from the European Union, the British Heart Foundation, the Leducq Foundation, the Medical Research Council (UK), and the German Centre for Cardiovascular Research, and from several drug and device companies active in atrial fibrillation, from which he received honoraria more than 3 years ago; he is listed as inventor on two patents held by the University of Birmingham.

European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) 2020. Presented online March 29-31, 2020.


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