Peppermint oil aromatherapy may ease pain after heart surgery

KASHAN, Iran — Using peppermint oil during aromatherapy could help alleviate postoperative pain and improve sleep for heart surgery patients, a new study reveals. The scientists explain that heart surgery, a significant procedure that entails the splitting of the breastbone and necessitates mechanical breathing support, carries a high risk of severe pain, stress, and insomnia.

Effective pain management can speed up patient recovery and potentially reduce the risk of complications after surgery. However, the pain itself, along with the medications used to address it, may lengthen the necessity for mechanical ventilation. This could lead to an increase in post-surgery complications, mortality rates, length of hospital stays, and overall healthcare costs.

The team underscored that drug alternatives might present a “safer” solution or could simply amplify the effectiveness of existing painkillers. They admit that the effectiveness of aromatherapy remained unclear until this study. Earlier studies have indicated that inhaled essential oils might prove beneficial, and peppermint essential oil is already a common staple in palliative (pain-relieving) care.

bottle surrounded green leaves
The researchers suggest that the main components of peppermint oil—carvone, limonene, and menthol—may be key to its pain-relieving qualities, particularly menthol. (Photo by Stefan Rodriguez)

In this study, the researchers set out to measure the potential of peppermint essential oil to alleviate pain and enhance the sleep quality of heart patients. A total of 64 adults were randomly assigned to receive treatment with either 0.1ml of 10-percent essential peppermint oil or 10ml distilled water. The treatment was administered 30 minutes before the removal of their breathing tube and then three times daily using a nebulizer until the second night after their procedure, totaling seven doses.

The team used standard scales to measure changes in pain severity and sleep quality. They found that, after two days, the average pain severity score in the aromatherapy group was 3.22, significantly lower than the 4.56 score in the control group. Average sleep scores also differed significantly between the two groups.

The researchers speculate that the main components of peppermint oil – carvone, limonene, and menthol – especially menthol, may contribute to its pain-relieving properties. They also reference previous studies that validate the relaxing and sedative effects of peppermint essential oil.

“The results show that inhalation of peppermint essential oil can reduce the pain intensity of patients after open heart surgery and consequently reduce the use of pain relievers by patients. Also, the use of this herbal product can improve the sleep quality of patients in the first nights after surgery and bring them more comfort,” concludes Professor Ismail Azizi-Fini, the lead author of the study and a member of Kashan University of Medical Sciences, in a media release.

“Considering the effect of peppermint essential oil inhalation on pain and sleep quality… it can be concluded that this herbal product can be safely used as a complementary treatment in relieving pain and making patients comfortable after heart surgery.”

The findings are published in the online journal BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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  1. This article underscores the importance of considering alternative therapies like peppermint oil aromatherapy in the pursuit of patient well-being.

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