Nov. 2, 2022 — People with functional dyspepsia — also known as dyspepsia — often have abdominal pain, nausea, profuse belching, and other GI symptoms after eating.
Technology to the rescue? A new study shows that a three-dimensional, immersive experience using a virtual reality headset for about 20 minutes a day for 2 weeks significantly improved symptoms and quality of life for people with indigestion compared to a control group. .
“We thought that functional dyspepsia might be particularly amenable to benefiting from VR therapy,” says David Kangmi, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. “Our study suggests that VR may be an effective and safe new treatment.
Although VR has improved indigestion symptoms, researchers still don’t know how it works. There are some theories: Immersion in a different world distracts people from stomachaches. VR can also change the signals sent between the brain and the gut, thereby reducing discomfort and pain, Kangmi says.
The study was presented at the American College of Gastroenterology 2022 Annual Meeting in Charlotte, NC. The research won the Excellence in Clinical Research Award.
Seeing more medical uses for VR
In recent years there has been increased interest in the clinical use of VR. Virtual reality has reduced acute and chronic pain symptoms in various clinical settings, for example, Cangemi says.
Functional dyspepsia affects about 10% of the population. Some people report fewer symptoms after cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of talk therapy, but it can be expensive, and access to it is limited. In addition, 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 prescription Lyrica, which is also a seizure medication used to treat pain.
But these agents can cause side effects, Kangmi says. “Therefore, there is a great need for new safe and effective treatment options for functional dyspepsia.”
In the first study to look at VR as a treatment for indigestion, researchers randomly assigned 27 people to virtual reality and 10 others to a control group. People in the treatment group could choose an active, passive, or guided virtual reality experience, while People in the control group watched two-dimensional nature videos.
People used the VR headset more than once a day for an average of 23 minutes per day. The average age of the people in the study was about 45 years, and 81% were women.
People filled out questionnaires to report pain and quality of life at the start of the study and to track any changes at week 1 and week 2. Although symptoms were less severe in both groups at 2 weeks, those in the VR group improved significantly. Standard symptom severity scale.
Similarly, quality-of-life scores improved by 2 weeks for all people in the study, but the treatment group reported greater improvements in quality-of-life measures.
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 withdrew from the study due to migraine..
Limitations of the study include a small number of participants and its short, 2-week duration. The researchers plan to study VR in more people with functional dyspepsia and for longer periods of time. They will also want to compare improvements between VR and medication taken to reduce symptoms and/or determine whether combining technology and medication leads to even greater improvement.
‘Very interesting’ study
“Since we don’t have a lot of options, it’s exciting to have a new potential treatment,” said Sameer Shah, MD, chief of gastroenterology at Merriam Hospital in Providence, RI, who was not involved in the research.
“Not everyone can access cognitive behavioral therapy cost-effectively,” he says. “If virtual reality is low-cost and accessible to people, it’s another tool we’d love to have in our toolbox to help patients with functional dyspepsia.”
Asked about the cost of VR technology, Shah pointed out that many smartphones can be converted into 3D virtual reality devices with a low-cost device.
Future studies with larger numbers are warranted, says Shah, who is also president of the American College of Gastroenterology and clinical professor of medicine at Brown University.