Open Heart Surgery and Soothing Music: the oxytocin connection

Are you having open heart surgery?  My mother had a quintuple by-pass over 15 years ago and even then, I told her about the importance of listening to soft, steady, soothing music during the surgery, to calm the body and the mind, and to facilitate healing and a faster recovery.  The doctors did not know much about the process but were happy to give the “go-ahead” to her.

When she began to wake up in the recovery room, one of the very first things she said was “Oh Alice!  The music was beautiful!  I enjoyed it so much and will never have surgery again without it!”

Now, yet another study has emerged that confirms what we knew in 1996!

J Clin Nurs. 2009 Aug;18(15):2153-61.

Soothing music can increase oxytocin levels during bed rest after open-heart surgery: a randomised control trial.

Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Centre for Health Care Sciences, Orebro University Hospital and School of Health, Orebro University, P.O. Box 1324, Orebro SE 70113, Sweden. ulrica.nilsson@orebroll.se

AIM: To evaluate the effect of bed rest with music on relaxation for patients who have undergone heart surgery on postoperative day one.

BACKGROUND: Music intervention has been evaluated as an appropriate nursing intervention to reduce patients ‘pain, stress and anxiety levels in several clinical settings, but its effectiveness in increasing patients’ subjective and objective relaxation levels has not been examined.

DESIGN: A randomised controlled trial.

METHOD: Forty patients undergoing open coronary artery bypass grafting and/or aortic valve replacement surgery were randomly allocated to either music listening during bed rest (n = 20) or bed rest only (n = 20). Relaxation was assessed during bed rest the day after surgery by determining the plasma oxytocin, heart rate, mean arterial blood pressure, PaO2 SaO2 and subjective relaxation levels.

RESULTS: In the music group, levels of oxytocin increased significantly in contrast to the control group for which the trend over time was negative i.e., decreasing values. Subjective relaxation levels increased significantly more and there were also a significant higher levels of PaO2 in the music group compared to the control group. There was no difference in mean arterial blood pressure, heart rate and SaO2 between the groups.

CONCLUSION: Listening to music during bed rest after open-heart surgery has some effects on the relaxation system as regards s-oxytocin and subjective relaxations levels. This effect seems to have a causal relation from the psychological (music makes patients relaxed) to the physical (oxytocin release).

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Music intervention should be offered as an integral part of the multimodal regime administered to the patients that have undergone cardiovascular surgery. It is a supportive source that increases relaxation.

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