updated 8/18/2006 7:30:13 PM ET 2006-08-18T23:30:13

Researchers at the University of New Mexico's Health Sciences Center believe they have found a way to make patients less fearful of needles — decorate them with butterflies, flowers and smiley faces.

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Fear of needles, or needle phobia, can impact the care a patient receives, the researchers said. Some children become hysterical at the sight of needles, while some adults will avoid the doctor's office altogether.

The researchers said the decorated needles can increase the quality of care when patients are less stressed.

Such decorations likely interfere with an established link between visual recognition of a perceived threat and the subsequent emotional response to that threat, the study suggested.

Needles, syringes and IV bags decorated with musical notes, flowers and smiley faces were highly favored by patients, the researchers said.

The researchers recruited 60 patients from outpatient clinics at the Health Sciences Center. Subjects randomly were exposed to eight designs of winged needles — such as one decorated as a butterfly — and six designs of syringes fitted with a needle.

When exposed to conventional syringes, 80 percent of the subjects experienced moderate to severe aversion, 63 percent suffered moderate to severe fear and 62 percent showed moderate to severe anxiety.

When exposed to the decorated syringes, the aversion in patients was reduced by 68 percent, fear by 53 percent and anxiety by 53 percent, the study found.

Wilmer Sibbitt, a professor in UNM's School of Medicine, said the decorated medical devices likely form a neurophysiological intervention, resulting in stimulation of brain areas usually not associated with fear, anxiety and aversion.

"It would be great to see these types of decorated needles, syringes, and IV bags mass produced," he said.

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