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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.

ADHD:

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.

Incontinence:

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."

Diabetes:

For people with diabetes, stress can wreak havoc with a variety of hormones that affect blood sugar control. Through biofeedback and relaxation exercises, it's possible to reduce this stress reaction, research shows.

Epilepsy:

Neurofeedback is helping epilepsy patients reduce the frequency of their seizures.

"In people with epilepsy, part of the brain has become unstable, and occasionally it triggers the rest of the brain into seizure," explained Siegfried Othmer, PhD, an Encino, Calif., physicist who trains biofeedback therapists, in a previous interview. Neurofeedback may help stabilize those circuits and reduce the occurrence of seizures.

Bottom Line: There's Help Out There

Many psychologists, professional counselors, social workers, and other health care professionals are trained in biofeedback, neurotherapy, neurofeedback, and EEG biofeedback. The Association for Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback has more information about this therapy and about finding a good practitioner. Also, The Biofeedback Certification Institute of America can help you find a certified and licensed practitioner.

Published Jan. 24, 2005.
Medically updated March 2006.

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Reviewed on March 01, 2006

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