Virtual reality eases the pain of delivering a baby

The technology is effective at lifting some discomfort during labor

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We've seen virtual reality (VR) as a way to help design homes, provide guidance during surgery and up the fun factor in gaming. Doctors are also tapping into VR to bring some pain management to patients — including those about to deliver a baby.

In a new study published in the Anesthesia & Analgesia journal, 27 women were asked to wear VR goggles while they were experiencing the first stage of labor that included early contractions. The patients were not medicated, and while wearing the VR goggles they experienced a drop in sensory, affective and cognitive pain, according to the authors, who received funding from the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan and the National Institutes of Health.

Every child birth experience is different — just as pain thresholds are different for different people. But the medical field is interested in looking at VR as a way to offset discomfort, fear and pain. It's not uncommon for people to turn to what may have once been called unconventional methods to handle medical issues. Meditation, acupuncture and herbal teas are now getting more attention from medical institutions as stored as the Mayo Clinic, particularly when trying to offset stress, insomnia and pain as well.

At Vanderbilt University, VR is even being studied as a way to help those suffering from drug addiction — allowing people to try new patterns in what were past uncomfortable environments, such as an alcoholic walking into a bar.

VR is also being used to help patients handle treatments that can be both painful and stressful such as chemotherapy and even dental treatments. A 2011 paper published in Pain Management journal found that VR not only helped with patient pain — nurses noted that children wearing VR headsets during exams were "…less nervous and more calm, leading to less challenging and stressful medical procedures," wrote authors on staff at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Those results dovetail with the conclusion that the University of Michigan's study reached — that VR may be able to help pregnant women as they move through childbirth, and help improve their "…pain and anxiety during labor," they wrote.


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