For the estimated 20.3 million adults and 6.3 million children in the U.S. who suffer from asthma, the primary treatment is the use of medications to help reduce the underlying inflammation in the airways.
A recent study by members of the Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB) is one of the first to explore the use of biofeedback as a complementary treatment to medication. And the results of this nascent study generated promising results.
The study, published in CHEST, the official journal of the American Academy of Chest Physicians, specifically evaluated the effectiveness of heart rate variability biofeedback on asthma. Heart rate variability (HRV) refers to a complex pattern of oscillations in heart rate, which occurs at various overlapping frequencies. In part, HRV is affected by respiration. It also is related to other reflexes, including those responsible for regulation of blood pressure and body temperature. HRV tends to be decreased in patients with various diseases, particularly those affecting the cardiovascular and/or central nervous systems. It also decreases during periods of stress.
Ninety-four outpatient, paid adult volunteers participated in the study. All subjects were first pre-stabilized on controller medication and then randomly assigned to one of four experimental groups: 1) a “full protocol” of traditional treatment combined with heart rate variability biofeedback and training in abdominal breathing through pursed lips; 2) heart rate variability biofeedback alone; 3) placebo biofeedback; 4) and a waiting list control. Subjects recorded asthma symptoms daily and measurements were taken before and after each weekly treatment session for groups one through three, and periodically in the waiting list group.
Compared with the two control groups, subjects in both of the two heart rate variability biofeedback groups were prescribed less medication, with minimal differences between the two active treatments. They also had fewer asthma attacks, had better lung function, and fewer asthma symptoms. The results suggest that HRV biofeedback appears promising as an adjunctive treatment for asthma, and appears to maintain asthma condition with a reduced dose of inhaled steroids. Further evaluation of this method is warranted.
The HRV biofeedback study was conducted at the psychophysiology laboratory at UMDNJ – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway, NJ, and the private outpatient offices of participating asthma physicians. Researchers included Paul Lehrer, PhD, Evgeny Vaschillo, PhD, Bronya, Vaschillo, MD, Shou-En Lu, PhD, Anthony Scardella, MD, and Robert Habib, PhD. The study was funded through a grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes on Health.
Asthma is one of many diseases/conditions that AAPB has identified as possibly benefiting from biofeedback, neurofeedback and other applied psychophysiological approaches as part of a treatment regimen. Other conditions include ADHD/ADD, headaches, pain disorders, incontinence and more.
The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB) was founded in 1969 as the Biofeedback Research Society. Biofeedback is a process of learning greater body control, with the aid of instruments that monitor physiological changes. Psychophysiology is the science of mind-body interaction.