Hypnosis In Medicine

Medical Author: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

The role of hypnosis in medicine has been evolving over the last 100 years. Currently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States is funding clinical trials of complementary and alternative medicine. Hypnosis in medicine has been one of the focuses of this funding effort.

Hypnosis in contemporary medicine was reviewed by James H. Stewart, M. D., of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, (Mayo Clin. Proc 105; 80 (4): 511-524). In this review, Dr. Stewart highlighted basic concepts of hypnosis and reviewed the results of many clinical trials of hypnosis in treating a variety of medical conditions.

Dr. Stewart noted that hypnosis does not involve a process of simply following instructions. Rather, it is an actual change in the perception of the brain as demonstrated by brain tests while people are undergoing hypnosis. Studies have shown that hypnosis does not act as a placebo and is not a state of sleep.

Dr. Stewart also noted that modern hypnotism was introduced by the Austrian physician, Franz Anton Mesmer, who is said to have brought what was referred to as "animal magnetism" to France in 1778. Hypnotism came to be called "Mesmerism" and was soon discredited as fraudulent. Hypnosis as a method of psychoanalysis evolved in the 20th century. Over the past 50 years, many studies have demonstrated the potential of hypnosis as an adjunctive treatment for a variety of conditions.

While hypnosis is generally considered to be a relatively harmless procedure, Dr. Stewart notes that it can be associated with the risk of side effects including headaches, dizziness, nausea, anxiety and even panic.

In reviewing studies of hypnosis treatments by using a Medline database, Dr. Stewart found that hypnosis has had reported benefits in treating:

Hypnosis has also been reported as being successful in the treatment of pain associated with bone marrow transplantation, nausea and vomiting as a result of chemotherapy for cancer treatment, and anesthesia for liver biopsy, upper GI endoscopy, and colonoscopy.

It should be noted, as mentioned in Dr. Stewart's review, that many of the diseases and conditions for which hypnosis has been reported to be beneficial can only be partially treated by the therapies and medicines currently available. It therefore seems that since hypnosis affords a relatively harmless treatment option, its use as a complementary treatment should be further explored by doctors and other health care providers.

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J. Stewart. "Hypnosis in Contemporary Medicine." Mayo Clin. Proc 105; 80 (4): 511-524 (2005).