Objective. Voiding cystourethrography (VCUG) is a commonly performed radiologic procedure in children that can be both painful and frightening. Given the distress that some children experience during the VCUG and the need for children to be alert and cooperative during the procedure, finding a psychological intervention that helps children to manage anxiety, distress, and pain is clearly desirable. This study was designed to examine whether relaxation and analgesia facilitated with hypnosis could reduce distress and procedure time for children who undergo this procedure.
Methods. Forty-four children who were scheduled for an upcoming VCUG were randomized to receive hypnosis (n = 21) or routine care (n = 23) while undergoing the procedure. The sample consisted of 29 (66%) girls and 15 (34%) boys with a mean age of 7.6 years (SD: 2.5; range: 4–15 years). Ethnic/racial backgrounds were 72.7% white, 18.2% Asian, 4.5% Latino, 2.3% black, and 2.3% Filipino. The mean number of previous VCUGs was 2.95 (SD: 2.51; mode: 2; range: 1–15). Potential participants were identified through computerized hospital records of upcoming VCUGs. Parents were contacted by telephone and invited to participate if their child was eligible. To be eligible for the study, the child must have undergone at least 1 previous VCUG, been at least 4 years of age at that time, and experienced distress during that procedure, and both the child and the participating parent had to be English speaking. Each eligible child and parent met with the research assistant (RA) before the day of the scheduled procedure for an initial assessment. Children were queried regarding the degree of crying, fear, and pain that they had experienced during their most recent VCUG. Parents completed a series of parallel questions. Immediately after this assessment, those who were randomized to the hypnosis condition were given a 1-hour training session in self-hypnotic visual imagery by a trained therapist. Parents and children were instructed to practice using the imaginative self-hypnosis procedure several times a day in preparation for the upcoming procedure. The therapist was also present during the procedure to conduct similar exercises with the child. The majority (83%) of those who were randomized to the routine care control group chose to participate in a hospital-provided recreation therapy program (offered as part of routine care). The program includes demonstration of the procedure with dolls, relaxation and breath work training, and assistance during the procedure. On the day of the VCUG, the RA met the family at the clinic before the procedure, and both the child and the parent rated the child's present level of fearfulness. During the procedure, the RA recorded observational ratings of the child's emotional tone and behavior and timed the overall procedure and its phases. Immediately after the VCUG, the child was asked how much crying, fear, and pain he or she had experienced during the procedure; the parent rated the child's experience on the same dimensions and also how traumatic the procedure had been (both generally and compared with their previous one), and the medical staff rated the degree of procedural difficulty. Outcomes included child reports of distress during the procedure, parent reports of how traumatic the present VCUG was compared with the previous one, observer ratings of distress during the procedure, medical staff reports of the difficulty of the procedure overall, and total procedural time.
Results. Results indicate significant benefits for the hypnosis group compared with the routine care group in the following 4 areas: (1) parents of children in the hypnosis group compared with those in the routine care group reported that the procedure was significantly less traumatic for their children compared with their previous VCUG procedure; (2) observational ratings of typical distress levels during the procedure were significantly lower for children in the hypnosis condition compared with those in the routine care condition; (3) medical staff reported a significant difference between groups in the overall difficulty of conducting the procedure, with less difficulty reported for the hypnosis group; and (4) total procedural time was significantly shorter—by almost 14 minutes—for the hypnosis group compared with the routine care group. Moderate to large effect sizes were obtained on each of these 4 outcomes.
Conclusions. Hypnotic relaxation may provide a systematic method for improving the overall medical care of children with urinary tract abnormalities and may be beneficial for children who undergo other invasive medical procedures. Because the VCUG is an essential part of the evaluation of urinary tract infections and vesicoureteral reflux in children, lower distress during the procedure may improve patient and family compliance with initial as well as follow-up evaluations. These findings augment the accumulating literature demonstrating the benefits of using hypnosis to reduce distress in the pediatric setting. The present findings are noteworthy in that this study was a controlled, randomized trial conducted in a naturalistic medical setting. In this context, we achieved a convergence of subjective and objective outcomes with moderate to large effect sizes, including those that may have an impact on patient care and procedure cost, that were consistently supportive of the beneficial effects of hypnosis—a noninvasive intervention with minimal risk. The findings, therefore, have immediate implications for pediatric care. Limitations of this study include the lack of participant and staff blindness to the child's condition assignment, which could have introduced bias into reports. However, the objective procedural time differences between groups were consistent with the other, more subjective outcome findings. The sample was also small and primarily white in ethnic/racial makeup, which may have restricted our ability to detect some differences and may limit the generalizability of findings to more representative samples. In addition, the sample comprised children who had already undergone at least 1 VCUG during which they had had difficulty. Consequently, additional research is needed to determine whether hypnosis would be helpful to those who are undergoing their first VCUG. Additional limitations, clinical observations, and directions for future research are also discussed.