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Play It Again, Surgeon

Music in the O.R. reduces patient anxiety

THURSDAY, June 14, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Scheduled for surgery anytime soon? You might want to consider listening to a little Beethoven, Sinatra or even Kid Rock to ease your anxiety.

That's the conclusion of a recent study that found that older patients who underwent ambulatory -- or "outpatient" -- surgery were prone to significantly less stress if they listened to music during the procedure.

"People this age undergoing ambulatory surgery have a great deal of stress. 'You're here, you're gone, next,' " says Karen Allen, lead author of the study and a research scientist in psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Allen looked at 40 patients facing minor surgery -- mainly for glaucoma and cataract removal.

The first 20 patients -- average age 74 -- registered an average baseline blood-pressure reading of 126/81 a week before the surgery, and an average heart rate of 70 beats per minute. On the day of surgery, however, the group's average blood pressure had skyrocketed to 158/92, with a heart rate of 87 beats per minute. The increase was due largely to anxiety, Allen speculates. But within five minutes of listening to music, the blood pressure had dropped back to 132/85 and continued to drop as the surgery progressed.

By contrast, the 20 patients who didn't listen to music -- average age, 77 -- saw their blood-pressure and heart-rate levels rise and stay there throughout the operations. Prior to surgery, their average blood-pressure rates were 128/85 and their heart rates averaged 70 beats per minute. Just before surgery, their blood pressure jumped to 160/92 and their heart rates averaged 83 -- and remained there until the surgery was completed.

Heightened blood pressure and heart rates can be a problem for anyone. But, they pose particular problems for the elderly, and particularly during surgery. "Any kind of stress can trigger anything," says Allen, citing strokes and heart attacks as possibilities during surgery.

Why does music combat stress so successfully? Allen believes it's a combination of factors.

Surgery is a time when patients feel they lack control. In her study, patients were allowed to choose their own music, perhaps increasing their sense of power. And their choices were diverse. A radio announcer for a local program called "Polka Time" naturally opted for polkas, while an Irish nun chose Celtic tunes and sang "Tura Lura Lura" as the surgeon removed her cataract. Big Band music was also popular, Allen says.

Besides offering a sense of control, Allen says, the music that patients chose was familiar and comforting. Many said they keep the radio on at home during the day. And, Allen notes, older Americans grew up with radio -- not television.

Finally, the patients said the music offered a distraction from the surgery. "They said they didn't have to hear the chatter of doctors and nurses," says Allen, whose study appeared in a recent issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Dr. Gerald Chodak, director of the Midwest Prostate and Urology Health Center in Chicago, says he has allowed radical prostatectomy patients to listen to music on headphones for about three-and-a-half years, always with positive results. He himself listens to the Rolling Stones and Motown when he performs surgery because it relaxes him. But why should his patients have to listen to his music, he thought.

Many of Chodak's patients also talk on cell phones to friends and family members during the two-hour surgery. They report the two options relax them, he says.

What To Do

To learn more about music's therapeutic effects, visit the American Music Therapy Association Web site. If you're interested in how music affects our brains, see this University of Washington site.

Or, read these HealthDay stories on the connection between music and health.

SOURCES: Interviews with Karen Allen, Ph.D., research scientist in psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo; Gerald Chodak, M.D., director of the Midwest Prostate and Urology Health Center in Chicago; May 2001 Psychosomatic Medicine
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