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Click here to see the growing list of research on music in the health care setting and its effects on reducing pain, cortisol levels and other stress effects.
Hear Japanese Enka music:

Music has charms to soothe those having a catheter test

March 8, 2006 -- Today the Mainichi Daily News (Tokyo) site posted a short unsigned item reporting that nurse researchers have found that patients who listened to their favorite music during cardiac catheter tests had lower blood pressure and felt more relaxed. The piece could have told us more about the Hokkaido hospital researchers. It does not even name the lead researcher, whom it briefly quotes. But it's still an unusual and laudable example of mainstream press coverage of important nursing research. And it even manages to explain why the research is important: "When patients become tense and their arteries tighten during the tests, it is easy for the catheters to cause damage to the arteries."

The piece, "Music found to decrease blood pressure of catheter test patients," reports that the research was conducted by nurses at Iwamizawa Municipal General Hospital. They surveyed patients' reactions to the tests by measuring their blood pressure when they first entered the exam room, and again 20 minutes later, after the catheters were inserted. The researchers found that the blood pressure of patients who listened to " classical music or other music they liked" dropped by an average of 44 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury).

Enka is mournful, traditional Japanese pop music. Listen to the audiofile:

The blood pressure of patients who listened to "nature-related sounds like the sound of waves or birds chirping" dropped an average of 26 mm Hg, but the blood pressure of those who did not listen to anything increased by an average of 6 mm Hg. Patients were also asked to rate their own levels of relaxation, and those who listened to music reported more relaxed states than those in the other groups.

The piece quotes "a nurse in the hospital's cardiovascular department, who headed the survey," as saying: "When nervous patients take cardiac catheter tests, perhaps they can ask the hospital to play their favorite music." The nurses reportedly plan to announce their findings later this month at a meeting of the Japanese Circulation Society in Nagoya.

We commend the Mainichi Daily News for this report. It tells the public that nurses are health professionals who initiate key scientific advances, a point that is not often made in the mainstream media.

The original article "Music found to decrease blood pressure of catheter test patients" appears to no longer be available, but you can see a web archive of the Mainichi Daily News article.

The best medicine in the world

            Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.

                                                                        -- Victor Hugo

Ilya Repin. Portrait of the Composer Mikhail Glinka. 1887. The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.January 1, 2010 -- Today BBC News posted a very good article by Jane Elliott reporting that the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery at King's College, London, has appointed its first "composer in residence," using funds from the PRS Foundation. During his one-year residency, composer John Browne plans to write pieces for the upcoming celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Nightingale's death and a song book for nurses to use on children's wards, among other works. The article relies on Ian Noonan, a lecturer in mental health at the School, who explains that Nightingale herself cited the importance of music in helping patients recover. Noonan's comments are generally helpful, although a couple do suggest that excellent nursing is about some intangible artistic sense and not really about science. This traditional view is understandable--nurses have long embraced the "art of caring" idea as a way to stand out alongside the physicians who get so much more respect for their expertise--but it encourages the public to continue to regard nursing as a kind of paid mothering service rather than the modern scientific profession it is. In any case, Diana Greenman, chief executive of the charity Music in Hospitals, explains that music can help "relieve pain, depression, anxiety and loneliness." Indeed, as the piece reports, music "has been shown to be beneficial in many areas of health, from stroke recovery to lung condition management." We thank Ms. Elliott and the BBC for their report on this innovative area of patient care, in which nurses have often taken the lead. more...

Nursing research on health benefits from music

Music decreases depression and physical signs of stress

August 2009 -- See research by nurses Moon Fai Chan, Angela Engle Chan, Esther Mok, Kwan Tse and Fionca Yuk finding that a music decreases symptoms of depression and also decreases heart rate, blood pressure and respirations in elderly adults after a one month intervention. see the abstract...

Music lowers cortisol levels in post open-heart patients

October 5, 2008 -- Registered nurse and nurse anesthetist Ulrica Nilsson RNA, PhD, carried out a study on music in cardiac patients, "The effect of music intervention in stress response to cardiac surgery in a randomized clinical trial" at Örebro University Hospital, Örebro, Sweden. Patients who listened to music in the post-operative setting had significantly reduced Cortisol levels. The study was published in the Heart & Lung: The Journal of Acute and Critical Care 38, (3), May-June 2009, Pages 201-207.

Dr. Nilsson has a website focused on music interventions in the health care setting. gives readers a list of suggestions that she believes will facilitate healing. She reports on her website:

Research has shown that calm music meeting certain criteria can reduce not only the experience of pain but also the production of the stress hormone cortisol and the need for morphine treatment. Calming music can also enhance physiological and psychological relaxation by increasing the oxytocin secretion and thereby reinforcing the feeling of relaxation.

Intervention has to be carefully designed. The music must meet certain technical criteria concerning pace, volume and dynamics. There is also a need for individualization concerning genre; there is no cure-for-all music type. Listening devices must also be designed and installed to provide easy use both for patients and staff.

Ulrica has designed six CDs with relaxing music. She was instrumental in starting Sweden’s first radio channel providing relaxing music to patients at Örebro University Hospital.

See Dr. Ulrica's has a fully designed music intervention plan that nurses can follow to help patients in their work setting.

Me pain in the perioperative setting

2002 -- A nurse-led research team showed that music in 182 day surgery patients who underwent varicose vein or inguinal hernia surgery under general anesthesia had reduced pain and the need for pain medication when exposed to relaxing music during surgery. "Analgesic Effect of Soothing Music with or without Therapeutic Suggestions in the Recovery Room after Surgery." Nilsson, U., Rawal, N., Enqvist, B., Unosson. M.

Music reduces pain, need for pain medicine and fatigue

2001 -- A nurse-led research team in Sweden performed a study on 90 hysterectomy patients, exposing them to music in ther periopoerative setting. Patients who were exposed to music had better pain control and could be mobilized earlier after surgery and were less fatigued. Improved recovery after music and therapeutic suggestions during general anaesthesia: a double-blind randomised controlled trial. Nilsson, U., Rawal, N., Uneståhl, L.E., Zetterberg, C. & Unosson, M. Acta Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica 2001;45(7):812-7

Below is not nursing research, but about music improving health care that may be of interest

Premature newborns have better brain development with music

May 28, 2019 -- "Without music, premature babies gmenerally had poorer functional connectivity between brain areas than full-term babies, confirming the negative effect of prematurity. "The most affected network is the salience network which detects information and evaluates its relevance at a specific time, and then makes the link with the other brain networks that must act. This network is essential, both for learning and performing cognitive tasks as well as in social relationships or emotional management," says Lara Lordier."

"In intensive care, children are overwhelmed by stimuli unrelated to their condition: doors open and close, alarms are triggered, etc. Unlike a full-term baby who, in utero, adjusts its rhythm to that of its mother, the premature baby in intensive care can hardly develop the link between the meaning of a stimulus in a specific context. On the other hand, the neural networks of children who heard Andreas Vollenweider's music were significantly improved: the functional connectivity between the salience network and auditory, sensorimotor, frontal, thalamus and precuneus networks,was indeed increased, resulting in brain networks organisation more similar to that of full-term infants." See the study...

Trained harpists comfort the dying

By Joseph B. Frazier (AP)
Springfield, Ore. -- In a white-walled hospital room, pancreatic cancer slowly drained all the life that remained in Carolyn. There was nothing more to do for this 62-year-old woman -- no oxygen or other life support, just a morphine drip to keep her as comfortable as possible. That, and the ministrations of Jane Franz. Franz brought her harp to the foot of Carolyn's bed, and started to play, weaving a hypnotic and soothing melody. more...


But consider keeping the volume down

August 4, 2015 -- Despite the large volume of nursing research finding that music helps patients thrive while undergoing stressful and complicated procedures, other recent nursing research found that in ORs where instrument requests needed to be repeated, It was 5 times more likely that music was playing. However, volume could have something to do with it. Far exceeding the 30 decibels that the WHO recommends, the average decibel level in the ORs tested was 65 decibels. See the article on Medscape, or the original research.


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