November 2, 2022 – People with functional dyspepsia – also known as dyspepsia – often experience abdominal pain, nausea, a lot of belching, and other digestive symptoms after eating.
Technology to the rescue? A new study reveals that an immersive 3D experience using a virtual reality headset for 20 minutes a day for two weeks significantly improved symptoms and quality of life for people with dyspepsia, compared to a control group.
“We thought functional dyspepsia might be particularly appropriate to benefit from VR therapy,” says study lead author David Cangemi, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. “Our study suggests that virtual reality may be an effective and safe new treatment.”
Although virtual reality has improved indigestion symptoms, researchers still don’t know exactly how it works. There are some theories: immersion in a different world distracts people from abdominal pain. Virtual reality can also change the signals sent between the brain and the gut, thus relieving discomfort and pain, Kanjime says.
The study was presented at the American College of Gastroenterology 2022 annual meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. The research received the Excellence in Clinical Research Award.
See more medical uses for virtual reality
There has been more interest in the medical uses of virtual reality in recent years. Cangemi says virtual reality has reduced acute and chronic pain symptoms in various clinical settings, for example.
Functional dyspepsia affects about 10% of the population. Some people report fewer symptoms after undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a form of talk therapy, but it can be expensive, and access is limited. Also, there are no FDA-approved medications specifically for indigestion. Some people try to manage symptoms with over-the-counter medications such as Prilosec, Nexium, or Prevacid, or with Lyrica, an anti-seizure medication also used to treat pain.
Cangemi says these agents can cause side effects. “Therefore, new, safe, and effective treatment options for functional dyspepsia are urgently needed.”
In the first study that looked at virtual reality to treat indigestion, researchers randomly assigned 27 people to virtual reality and another 10 to a control group. People in a therapy group can choose an active, passive, or directed virtual reality experience, while at it People in the control group watched videos of 2D nature.
People used VR glasses a little more than once a day for an average of 23 minutes a day. The average age of the subjects in the study was about 45, and 81% of them were women.
Subjects filled out questionnaires reporting pain and quality of life at the start of the study and to track any changes in Week 1 and Week 2. Although symptoms became less severe in both groups at 2 weeks, people in the VR group improved significantly more in Week 1 and Week 2. . Standard symptom severity scale.
Likewise, quality of life scores improved for all subjects in the two-week study, but the treatment group reported a greater improvement in the measure of quality of life.
A total of 17 people, including 11 in the VR group, reported adverse effects, although none were considered serious. One person in the VR group dropped out of the study because of migraines.
The study limits include a small number of participants and its short duration of two weeks. The researchers plan to study virtual reality in more people with functional dyspepsia and for a longer period. They would also like to compare improvements between virtual reality and medications taken to relieve symptoms and/or determine if the combination of technology and medication results in greater improvements.
Study “very interesting”
“Because there aren’t a lot of options, it’s very exciting to have a potential new treatment,” says Sameer Shah, MD, chief of gastroenterology at Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rodriguez, who was not involved in the study.
“Nobody can access cognitive behavioral therapy with the cost,” he says. “If virtual reality is low-cost and available to people, it’s another tool we’d like to have in our toolbox to help our patients with functional dyspepsia.”
When asked about the cost of virtual reality technology, Shah noted that many smartphones can be equipped with a low-cost device to turn them into 3D virtual reality devices.
Shah, who is also president of the American College of Gastroenterology and professor of clinical medicine at Brown University, says future studies in larger numbers are warranted.