Research: LEAHY and colleagues,

Listed in Issue 42


LEAHY and colleagues, Department of Gastroenterology, Royal Free Hospital London studied the effectiveness of a computer biofeedback game designed to teach deep relaxation for patients with irritable bowel syndrome .



The authors conducted an open, prospective single centre study at the Royal free Hospital, London with 40 patients with irritable bowel syndrome refractory to conventional treatment. The main outcome measures were the development of a computer aided biofeedback apparatus directed at the gut for teaching relaxation to patients with irritable bowel syndrome, and the patients ability to complete a computer game involving biofeedback relating changes in stress to animated computer graphics. The degree to which deep relaxation was achieved was measured numerically by a progressive reduction in sensitivity level of the biofeedback loop. The success of relaxation was measured with daily diaries in which global and weighted bowel symptom scores were entered.


A computer biofeedback game based on animated gut imagery was successfully developed. Most patients learned to achieve progressively deeper levels of relaxation after four 30-minute biofeedback sessions. The use of dosed relaxation when bowel symptoms were troublesome helped in 50% of patients, reducing the global symptoms score (mean difference 0.5) and the bowel symptoms score (mean difference 0.8). At long-term follow-up, 64% of patients who had been helped by dosed relaxation, continued to use the technique, even though they had no further contact with the hospital.


The computer biofeedback game taught deep relaxation rapidly and effectively. 50% of the patients with refractory irritable bowel syndrome found the technique helpful on most occasions on which it was used. Therefore, computer biofeedback games may offer a simple, inexpensive strategy for managing other stress related medical conditions.


Leahy A et al. Computerised biofeedback games: a new method for teaching stress management and its use in irritable bowel syndrome. J R Coll Physicians Lond 32(6): 552-6 Nov-Dec 1998 .

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