The mind is a powerful thing. During biofeedback, your mind is used to improve specific health issues by controlling involuntary bodily functions, such as heart rate and perspiration. In gastroenterology, it is used to positively affect conditions of the digestive tract.

It is so named because it “feeds back” information to you about a condition you are trying to correct. Biofeedback is painless, doesn’t need drugs, and is noninvasive.

How is Biofeedback Done?

During a biofeedback session, sensors called electrodes are attached to your body by a trained biofeedback practitioner. These sensors connect to a monitor and relay information to it about specific physical functions.

For instance, if you’re stressed, you’ll be able to see how your blood pressure and heart rate respond to tension. Then you’ll get real-time feedback as you use certain techniques to reduce or eliminate these issues. Eventually, you’ll be able to do this without help from the electrodes or monitor.

Some of the functions that you can learn to regulate include:

  • Muscle tension.
  • Blood pressure.
  • Heart rate.
  • Blood flow.
  • Awareness of pain.

Think of biofeedback like a personal trainer who coaches you to use your muscles and breathe correctly.

What Are the Different Types of Biofeedback Techniques?
There are many different types of biofeedback for different needs. These include:

  • Electromyogram (EMG): During EMG, sensors are placed at various points on your body and connected to an electromyogram. The EMG gauges muscle tension, so you can become aware of it and control it immediately.
  • Respiratory Biofeedback: During respiratory biofeedback, you’ll wear bands around your abdomen and chest to track your breathing rate and produce a calmer physical and mental state. In time, respiratory biofeedback can help you get better breath control on your own.
  • Galvanic Skin Response: Galvanic skin response, or skin conductance, measures perspiration on your skin. The biofeedback from increased sweat helps determine emotional distress. Although sweating can be caused by exertion, it can also be associated with anxiety. The greater the anxiety, the more the galvanic skin response will escalate.
  • Thermal Biofeedback: Thermal biofeedback, also known as temperature feedback, requires you to wear sensors that gauge when your body temperature decreases due to stress. When stress causes the temperature to drop, the device prompts you to start relaxation methods. Thermal biofeedback is helpful to identify the onset of stress so that you can help stop it before it starts.
  • Blood Pressure Biofeedback: As the name suggests, this type of biofeedback reveals details about your blood pressure.
  • Neurofeedback (Electroencephalography or EEG): Using sensors placed on the scalp, EEG measures brain wave activity.
  • Electromyography (EMG): An EMG machine monitors changes in muscle tension.
  • Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback: Heart Rate Variability (HRV) involves synchronizing heart rate and breathing patterns to positively affect conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, and chronic pain.

How Many Sessions Should I Have?

Sessions are usually last approximately 30 to 60 minutes. You should plan on eight to 10 sessions, although some conditions need twice as many sessions.

What Relaxation Techniques Are Used in Biofeedback?

Relaxation techniques are practices that can calm the mind and, in turn, calm the body. The following are relaxation techniques commonly used during biofeedback.

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation – This technique requires tensing certain muscles and then relaxing them to discharge the tension or pain.
  • Guided Imagery – Also called guided visualization, this relaxation technique involves thinking of vivid, pleasant images or situations to guide yourself into a calmer state. For instance, you may imagine yourself walking on a beach in the Caribbean, eating an amazing meal at a five-star restaurant, or walking in the serenity of a beautiful redwood forest.
  • Changing Your Breathing – You can relieve anxiety by shifting your breathing. For example, you could take slow, deep belly breaths instead of quick, shallow chest breaths.
  • Repositioning Your Body – You may relieve muscle tension by shifting how you move, stand, or sit.
  • Use Meditation Techniques – Mindfulness meditation, or focusing on the present moment, is an effective relaxation technique.

What Conditions Can Biofeedback Treat?

Biofeedback can address many gastrointestinal conditions. These include:

Urinary Incontinence.
Urinary incontinence is a condition in which urine leaks from the bladder. This issue typically affects women because of childbirth, pregnancy, or menopause. Biofeedback helps you control and develop pelvic floor muscles that lack the strength to prevent leakage. This therapy addresses three types of incontinence.

  1. Urge incontinence (overactive bladder) is when you have a sudden, powerful urge to urinate. You need to rush to a bathroom to avoid an accident.
  2. Stress incontinence occurs when the bladder’s muscles are too weak to endure the stress of laughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects, exercising, or coughing. This is the most prevalent type of incontinence.
  3. Frequency incontinence means you urinate more often than you did before. You have to urinate many times during the day and relieve yourself repeatedly at night. Urinating seven or more times a day characterizes frequency incontinence.

For all these forms of incontinence, biofeedback helps pinpoint the muscles that need strengthening to help control the bladder. Often, people incorrectly engage their abdominal muscles rather than their pelvic floor muscles. Information about improper form is relayed to you from the biofeedback machine, so you can quickly adjust your technique.

Fecal Incontinence (Bowel Incontinence)
Fecal incontinence occurs when you can’t control your bowel movements. This causes unexpected waste leakage. It can be mild and happen when you pass gas or be a complete loss of control.

There are four types of fecal incontinence:

  1. Urge incontinence refers to a sudden, dire need to defecate. People with this condition often don’t get to the bathroom in time to prevent an accident.
  2. People who have passive incontinence lack the urge to go to the bathroom. They are unaware that a bowel movement is ready to be passed, so feces make escape uncontrolled.
  3. When someone has flatus incontinence (gas incontinence), they are aware that their rectum is full, but they cannot determine if it’s gas or a stool.
  4. Overflow incontinence occurs when watery feces seep around a blockage of hard stool. Biofeedback is an effective method of fortifying the anal sphincter muscles to deal with fecal incontinence. Sensors help the patient isolate and contract these muscles so that they can be strengthened.

Chronic Constipation
Chronic constipation is a condition that lasts three weeks or more and makes feces infrequent and challenging to pass.

There are three types of chronic constipation:

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Constipation (IBS-C) is a subtype of IBS that causes chronic constipation rather than diarrhea (which characterizes IBS-D). An image of your gut is displayed on a computer screen. You can learn how to affect the computerized image of a bowel movement with physical and mental relaxation to ease your constipation with biofeedback.
  2. Dyssynergic constipation, also called anismus, is the failure of the abdominal, pelvic floor muscles and anal sphincters (two muscles in the anus) to relax during the process of elimination. When you usually pass a bowel movement, these structures relax. If you have anismus, these muscles don’t relax. Instead, they involuntarily tighten and squeeze shut. This makes it very difficult to go to the bathroom. Biofeedback can help patients master consciously tightening and relaxing their pelvic floor muscles. This retrains the muscles to perform normally when defecating.
  3. Slow Transit Constipation – the food you eat turns into stool that contains a certain amount of water. If the stool moves too slowly through your intestine, your body will soak up water from it, resulting in hard movements that are difficult to pass. If the stool stays too long in the colon, it also exerts excessive pressure on the intestine, resulting in bloating and cramps. Biofeedback helps you with visualization and relaxation techniques that can help your stool travel at a faster pace.

Contact Us

Biofeedback has affected gastroenterology more than any medical specialty. At Gastro MD, it is a significant part of our practice and one we recommend as a safe, effective, and painless treatment for your gastrointestinal issues.

Call us today! The team of professionals at GastroMD looks forward to working with you. We are one of the leading gastroenterology practices in the Tampa Bay area. We perform a host of diagnostic procedures using state-of-the-art equipment in a friendly, comfortable, and inviting atmosphere where patient care is always a top priority!