Can Virtual Reality Help with Panic Disorder?

by on May 31, 2013

A phobia is an extreme and overwhelming fear of an object or situation. Phobias can develop in children or adults, and they are more durable than regular fears.

People who have phobias, panic disorder, and a number of other anxiety illnesses are more prone than the general population to having panic attacks.

When someone has a panic attack, he or she experiences several physiological symptoms. These may include sudden, intense anxiety; rapid breathing; a feeling of impending doom; chest pains; and a few others. People who have had a panic attack liken the experience to that of a heart attack. It is a very frightening and often unexpected occurrence.

The suddenness of a panic attack is alarming for people. The fear of having a panic attack can lead to extreme cautionary measures. This is how some people develop agoraphobia, or the fear of being in open spaces. They worry that they will have a panic attack in public (leading to embarrassment) or in a place where they are unable to receive assistance. This causes them to reason that they will be safer and avoid embarrassment if they stay home or in familiar areas where they do not feel so vulnerable.

A recent study shows that virtual reality exposure to an object of fear may be somewhat effective at treating someone for that fear. The researchers combined cognitive behavioral therapy with real life exposure to an object of fear or virtual exposure to that same object. Both methods were shown to be helpful in relieving panic and anxiety in the participants, although real life exposure was still somewhat more effective.

Future research will reveal how virtual reality treatment can help people overcome panic.

To read the article describing the study, follow the link here:

http://www.news-medical.net/news/20130527/Study-examines-effectiveness-of-VRET-on-agoraphobia-panic-disorder.aspx

Photo Credit: Zebra Pares via Compfight cc

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