After eating, people with functional dyspepsia, commonly known as indigestion, frequently experience stomach pain, nausea, excessive belching, and other GI symptoms.
Can technology save the day? In comparison to a control group, patients with dyspepsia experienced considerably fewer symptoms and higher levels of quality of life after participating in a two-week, 20-minute-per-day virtual reality encounter.
According to lead study investigator David Cangemi, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, “we hypothesised that functional dyspepsia may be particularly well-suited to benefit from VR therapy.” “Our research indicates that VR may be a new, safe, and successful treatment.”
Although VR reduced gastrointestinal symptoms, scientists are still unsure of how it operates. Several theories exist: People can avoid their stomach aches by immersing themselves in another world. According to Cangemi, VR may alter the signals that are exchanged between the brain and the gut, reducing discomfort and suffering.
The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2022. A prize for excellence in clinical research was given to the study.
VR Getting More Medical Applications
In recent years, interest in VR’s potential medical applications has increased. For instance, Cangemi claims that using virtual reality in various healthcare contexts reduced the symptoms of both acute and chronic pain.
10% of people have functional dyspepsia, according to statistics. Although cognitive behavioural treatment, a type of talk therapy, can be expensive and has limited access, some patients report reduced symptoms after receiving it. Additionally, there are no drugs that have been FDA-approved especially for dyspepsia. With over-the-counter medications like Prilosec, Nexium, or Prevacid or with prescription Lyrica, an anti-seizure drug also used to treat pain, some people attempt to manage their symptoms.
Cangemi notes that some substances can have negative effects. Therefore, there is a huge need for creative, safe, and efficient treatment alternatives for functional dyspepsia.
27 participants were randomly randomised to virtual reality in the first study to examine VR’s potential for alleviating dyspepsia, while 10 participants served as controls. While those in the control group watched two-dimensional nature movies, those in the treatment group had the option of choosing an active, passive, or guided virtual reality experience.
The average daily usage of the VR headgear was a little more than once, for a total of 23 minutes. The study’s participants had an average age of roughly 45 years, and 81% of them were female.
At the outset of the trial and at weeks one and two, participants completed questionnaires to report their pain and quality of life as well as to note any changes. At two weeks, both groups’ symptoms had lessened, but those in the VR group had much better improvement on the conventional symptom severity scale.
Similar to this, all trial participants’ quality of life scores increased by two weeks, but those in the therapy group experienced bigger gains.
A total of 17 people—11 of whom were in the VR group—reported negative effects, but none were thought to be seriously harmful. Due to migraines, one participant in the VR group withdrew from the trial.
The study’s limitations include the few participants and its brief 2-week duration. The trial will last longer and involve more people with functional dyspepsia, according to the researchers. They also want to compare the benefits made by VR to those made by symptoms-alleviating drugs, and possibly even see if combining the two technologies can yield even better outcomes.
Study ‘Very Exciting’
It’s very exciting to have a new prospective treatment because we don’t have many options, says Samir Shah, MD, chief of gastroenterology at the Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, who was not involved in the study.
Due to the expense, he claims that not everyone can get cognitive behavioural therapy. “We’d love to have virtual reality as another tool in our toolkit to treat our patients with functional dyspepsia if it’s affordable and available to people,” the researcher said.
In response to a question concerning the price of VR technology, Shah emphasised that many cellphones may be equipped with a low-cost component that turns them into 3D virtual reality devices.
According to Shah, who is also the president of the American College of Gastroenterology and a clinical professor of medicine at Brown University, additional research with bigger sample sizes are necessary.