Can biofeedback help conditions like high blood pressure, migraines and anxiety? Though many still consider biofeedback unproven in this regard, some scientific research seems to say it really can. Biofeedback works by giving patients a look at what is going on in certain systems in their body, as well as a way to influence them.
What is it?
To use biofeedback, patients are hooked up to instruments that record particular body functions, such as skin temperature or heart rate. A monitor shows the numbers so the patient can attempt to change them.
High blood pressure
A study at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas had patients relax with deep breathing while monitoring their pulse, blood pressure and temperature. Participants were able to lower their numbers by up to 10 points. According to Carolyn B. Yucha's study, patients with cold finger tips, high blood pressure and a tendency to overreact were most likely to profit from biofeedback for high blood pressure.
Migraine sufferers sometimes use biofeedback to learn to increase the blood flow to their hands by concentrating on warming them. This decreases blood flow to the brain, which alleviates pain for many patients. Temperature feedback, also known as hand-warming feedback, lets patients know when they are increasing the blood flow to their hands. In effect, they learn to divert excess blood flow from the vessels in the brain. After training, they are able to warm their hands without watching a monitor.
Studies show it works
In this form of biofeedback, a wire is attached to a patient's hand to measure temperature, and the patient practices for 20 to 30 minutes each week. Some studies show that this technique does decrease the frequency and severity of migraines, at least for many patients. It possibly averts migraines as well, if people consciously warm their hands during the aura that warns of the onset of a migraine.
Biofeedback is also frequently used to help patients learn to deal with anxiety. At the University of Washington, the counseling office uses it to help students deal with social anxiety, test anxiety, chronic stress or generalized anxiety. Training may help patients become aware of heart rate variability, respiration and brain-wave variability. Students may also receive counseling or other treatment along with biofeedback.
The biofeedback approach has been used to treat some people with ADHD, epilepsy or chronic pain. Although biofeedback is still considered an alternative therapy, at least by many insurance companies, many people who have tried it are pleased with the results.