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Health & Balance

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Biofeedback Trains Mind, Body to Make Changes

Migraines, ADHD, high blood pressure, epilepsy, and incontinence can all benefit from the technique of biofeedback. Part 1 of a 4-part series on alternative medicine.

Migraines and other headaches: continued...

Tension headaches, caused by tightened head muscles, also quiet down when biofeedback is used to relax those muscles, he adds.

"In times of high stress, or when they have a feeling of a headache coming on, hand warming and relaxation will decrease the eventuality of having a headache -- or at least one that's not as severe," says Baskin.

Studies show that a combination of medication and biofeedback has greater effect than either treatment alone, he says. Also, recent data have shown that long-term relief for migraine sufferers is better with biofeedback. In that study, a group trained in biofeedback had much lower recurrences of migraines, fewer hospitalizations, and lower cost of treatment since they could cut back on medications.


Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that is being used to treat children with ADHD. "In the last five to 10 years, data is beginning to emerge showing this to be a very promising new treatment," Baskin tells WebMD. "I think it's going to gradually become the standard of care for ADD and ADHD. Training sessions are getting shorter, equipment is getting better, and combined with very good therapy, the data [on effectiveness] is looking very good."

One study found an improvement in impulsiveness, inattention and functioning in school after 40 neurofeedback sessions combined with teaching strategies.

"Biofeedback can not only help a child use brainwaves they don't usually employ, but it may also help increase blood flow to specific parts of the brain involved with ADHD," said Joel Lubar, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in a previous interview. Lubar developed the ADHD treatment in the 1970s.

"Used with behavior therapies that incorporate classroom and homework skills, neurofeedback can help these children become less dependent on stimulants like Ritalin," Lubar told WebMD.

Mental Illness:

Biofeedback is also being used to help treat depression, addiction, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.


Medicare has recently approved biofeedback training for urinary and fecal incontinence treatment in elderly men and women. "Incontinence is the No. 1 reason why people are placed in long-term care facilities," Baskin tells WebMD. "Through biofeedback, elderly people can learn something similar to Kegel exercises -- contracting and controlling bladder and bowel muscles. The data on effectiveness is fairly spectacular. And they can learn it in a doctor's office. A lot of urology practices are doing it now."

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