Virtual Reality May Effectively Reduce Sensory, Affective, and Cognitive Pain During Labor

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The investigators used an immersive and interactive VR system involving a Samsung GearVR head-mounted display.
The investigators used an immersive and interactive VR system involving a Samsung GearVR head-mounted display.

Virtual reality (VR) may effectively alleviate pain and anxiety for unmedicated women experiencing contractions during the first stage of labor, according to a study published in Anesthesia & Analgesia.

The investigators used consumer-ready components to develop an immersive and interactive VR system, involving a Samsung GearVR head-mounted display powered by a Galaxy S7 phone, a hand control, and noise-reducing headphones powered by a parallel S5 phone. Participants used a scuba-diving simulation of manatees with sounds of manatee calls, breathing underwater, and additional relaxing music.

The use of VR was examined in 27 laboring women who were giving birth for the firsttime and anticipating a vaginal delivery. Unmedicated study participants with or without VR were observed for equivalent times during contractions in the first stage of labor. Women were asked to rate their pain intensity using numeric rating scales, to rate the amount of time spent thinking about pain (cognitive pain dimension), as well as pain unpleasantness (affective pain dimension) and worst pain intensity (sensory pain dimension).

Participants in the VR ns no VR group had lower numeric rating scale scores for worst pain intensity (slope −1.5; 95% CI, −0.8 to −2.2), lower affective pain affective pain (slope −2.5; 95% CI, −1.6 to −3.3), cognitive pain (slope −3.1; 95% CI, −2.4 to −3.8), and anxiety (slope −1.5; 95% CI, −0.8 to −2.3).

In total, 82% of participants reported that they very much/completely enjoyed using VR during labor, and 70% said they would be very/completely interested in a new VR development specifically for labor.

"Future development for VR applications in laboring women—either alone or as an adjunct therapy—should focus on ease of use and intuitive design, prehospital education, custom-tailored virtual environments, adaptability to variable patient positions…, positive motivational biofeedback, goal-oriented tasks including position changes and mobility, and emotionally engaging content appealing to laboring women," the researchers wrote.

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Reference

Frey DP, Bauer ME, Bell CL, et al. Virtual reality analgesia in labor: the VRAIL pilot study-a preliminary randomized controlled trial suggesting benefit of immersive virtual reality analgesia in unmedicated laboring women. [published online July 11, 2018]. Anesth Analg. doi:10.1213/ANE.0000000000003649

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