Fear of needles can seriously impact the care a patient receives some children can become hysterical while some adults will avoid the doctor's office altogether. However, when researchers at the UNM Health Sciences Center decorated syringes with decorative butterflies, flowers, fish and smiley faces, patient fear, aversion and anxiety levels decreased significantly. Researchers believe this novel form of cognitive therapy can make a real difference in the quality of care less stressed out patients can receive.

In the UNM study, some 60 patients were recruited from UNM Health Sciences Center outpatient clinics. The patients, 67 percent were female and 41 percent were pediatric patients, represented a typical mix of subjects in a family practice clinic. The subjects were randomly exposed to eight different designs of winged needles and six different designs of syringes fitted with a needle, and tested on a range of standardized visual analogue reaction scales.

A fear of needles, syringe procedures, intravenous therapy and medical devices is given the overall term ofneedle phobia.The UNM study focused on the specific psychological components of stress aversion, fear and anxiety induced by exposures to needles and medical devices. Some 80 percent of the subjects experienced moderate to severe aversion, 63 percent suffered moderate and to severe fear and 62 percent showed moderate to severe anxiety on exposure to conventional syringes.

Using decorated syringes resulted in significant stress reduction, and reduced aversion by 68 percent, fear by 53 percent and anxiety by 53 percent. Significant reductions were also found when IV bags and scalpels were decorated.

Researcher Wilmer L. Sibbitt, Jr., M.D., Professor, Internal Medicine, Rheumatology, and Neurology at the UNM School of Medicine, said it is likely that decorating a medical device is a neurophysiologic intervention, resulting in stimulation of brain areas not usually associated with fear, anxiety and aversion.

"It would be great to see these types of decorated needles, syringes, and IV bags mass-produced. These decorated stress-reduction devices serve as a type of cognitive therapy. However, unlike a number of other interventions, these decorations actually focus the patient's attention and interest on the medical device, while reducing fear, aversion and anxiety," he said.

This suggests the decorations interfere with the established link between visual recognition of a perceived threat and the subsequent emotional response to that perceived threat.

The Study is being published in the August issue of Journal of Family Practice.

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Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322