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Could Biofeedback Help Ease Long COVID?
  • Posted March 18, 2024

Could Biofeedback Help Ease Long COVID?

Breathing and relaxation techniques may offer relief to some patients battling Long COVID.

In a new, small study of 20 patients, biofeedback therapy relieved both the physical and psychological symptoms of Long COVID, researchers said. Many participants had been dealing with symptoms for more than a year.

"Our biggest hope is that we've identified a way to alleviate chronic physical symptoms that are not successfully treated by standard biomedical approaches, and that we did so with a short-term, non-pharmacological model that is easily scalable," said lead author Natacha Emerson, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Biofeedback therapy pairs breathing and relaxation techniques with visual feedback to teach people how to regulate their body temperature, heart rate and other body processes.

After six weeks of treatment, patients in this study reported they were sleeping better and had significant improvements in physical, depression and anxiety symptoms. 

Three months later, they were still seeing the benefit, using fewer prescription medicines and having fewer doctor visits, researchers said.

Worldwide, an estimated 65 million people have Long COVID -- persistent symptoms that linger long past the actual infection. This constellation of symptoms include depression, anxiety, sleep issues, brain fog, dizziness and heart palpitations.

"It is important to underscore that while this behavioral intervention may help symptoms, patients with Long COVID are not in control of their symptoms and are not faking or exaggerating what they report to their doctors," Emerson said in a UCLA news release. 

"Whether it is a racing heart, chronic cough or fatigue, these are real symptoms, just not rooted in a disease process," she added. "Instead, we think the autonomic nervous system is off balance and signaling fight-or-flight mechanisms, similarly to what we see in panic attacks."

Emerson did note that some patients were also receiving other treatments such as acupuncture or psychotherapy, which may have contributed to the observed improvements.

Her team hopes to see similar findings from a randomized, controlled trial. They want to compare biofeedback to other treatments such as psychotherapy or pulmonary rehabilitation.

The findings appear in the April issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.

"What is exciting is that we are restoring hope in people who feared they would be disabled long-term," Emerson said. "And if this tool works, it is one they can practice long term and might apply to future periods of stress."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about Long COVID.

SOURCE: UCLA Health Sciences, news release, March 13, 2024

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