Around a third of patients investigated for chest pain thought to be caused by coronary artery disease have no identifiable cause for their pain. Nevertheless they often continue to be severely incapacitated by it, despite reassurances that there is nothing to worry about. Young women seem to be particularly prone to the condition.
The cause of non-cardiac chest pain is unknown, although several factors have been implicated, including acid reflux and psychological problems. The condition is notoriously difficult to treat.
Researchers randomly divided 28 patients with the condition into two groups. One group received 12 sessions of hypnotherapy over 17 weeks; the other group were given "supportive therapy" plus dummy medicine (placebo).
Of the 15 people treated with hypnotherapy, 80% reported significant pain relief, although there was no change in frequency of bouts of pain, compared with just three of the 13 people treated with supportive therapy and placebo.
Hypnotherapy also significantly improved the sense of overall wellbeing and reduced the use of painkillers and other drugs prescribed to control the condition. By contrast, the group treated with supportive therapy increased their drug intake.
Hypnotherapy did not affect levels of anxiety or depression, however, which remained the same as before.
Brain scans of patients treated with hypnotherapy for other conditions show that it directly affects a region of the brain which processes the emotional content of a painful stimulus. And hypnotherapy can also cut levels of gastric acid produced by the stomach.
The authors acknowledge that hypnotherapy is labour intensive and therefore expensive, but so too are the many investigations and drugs given to patients with non-cardiac chest pain, they say.
And previous research carried out by the same authors on patients with irritable bowel syndrome shows that most of them remain well in the long term, requiring far less medication and far fewer visits to their doctors.
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