UC Irvine Medical Center now offers patients a one-of-a-kind program called “Preparing for Surgery – Mind, Body and Spirit” that teaches techniques shown to improve patient outcomes, reduce postoperative pain and even lower the amount of pain medication needed after surgery.

“Surgery can be a life-altering experience,” said Dr. Zeev N. Kain, chair of UC Irvine’s Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care and associate dean for clinical research.  “Anxiety is connected to and focuses pain, so our goal is to teach patients how to cope with their surgery and reduce anxiety before surgery and pain after surgery.”

“This is a unique program. It’s not just a lecture about anesthesia and surgery,” he said. “It addresses the real mind-body connection and the way a patient experiences pain.”

Dr. Abraham Rosenbaum, assistant professor of clinical anesthesiology, and perioperative nurse Karen Bopp lead the twice-monthly sessions at the new UC Irvine Douglas Hospital. Patients are encouraged to attend a session one to four weeks prior to surgery and to bring a support person, such as a spouse, friend or child. The “Preparing for Surgery – Mind, Body and Spirit” sessions are free and last about two hours.

Patients scheduled for surgery often experience fear of the unknown and fear of not being in control. “It’s natural to feel that way,” said Bopp. “Patients need to know what to expect and to understand what things are normal aspects of the surgical process.”

The first part of each session addresses events surrounding the surgery, including anesthesia, and provides a general description of events in the operating room. In addition, patients are able to ask questions about their procedures.

In the session’s second part, patients are taught such relaxation techniques as yoga breathing, guided imagery and meditation. The intent is to give them tools to use before and after surgery to reduce their anxiety levels and cope with their stress.

“Research shows that patients have improved outcomes when these approaches – discussing the surgery and learning relaxation techniques – are combined prior to surgery,” Kain said.

He has long researched the relationship between anxiety and pain among children undergoing surgery, publishing studies in such journals as “Pediatrics” and “Anesthesiology.” Since leaving Yale University and coming to UCI in 2008, Kain has continued to seek ways to alleviate preoperative anxiety and postoperative pain in all surgical patients.

The results observed in the “Mind, Body and Spirit” sessions may be used in research designed to further physicians’ understanding of how stress and anxiety contribute to pain, said Rosenbaum.

Sessions are held at 4 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of each month. Call 877.UCI.DOCS (877.824.3627) for dates and to register.

About UC Irvine Medical Center: UC Irvine Medical Center is Orange County’s only university research hospital, Level I trauma center, American College of Surgeons-verified regional burn center and National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. It offers acute- and general-care service at its new 482,000-square-foot UC Irvine Douglas Hospital.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 27,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,200 staff. The top employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4.2 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

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