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Virtual Reality Programs Shown to Reduce Stress of Women Going Through IVF

June 27, 2018
Katie Visco

If you like to watch TV, browse the internet, or play video games, the odds are good you’ve heard of Virtual Reality. Once the stuff of science fiction, VR is now the hottest new home electronics trend, with a whole range of models vying for the attention of consumers everywhere. VR promises to change the way we consume any kind of media we can think of, from movies, to live sports broadcasts, to videogames, to simply browsing the internet. This is only a fraction of the potential functionality of Virtual Reality, as recent studies suggest VR could have wide applications as a therapy tool, especially for women going through IVF.

The Study

Scientific method meets bleeding-edge tech.

‍(Image courtesy of OnComfort)

100 women between 18 and 42 years old gave their consent to be included in the study led by Professor Fabienne Roelants of Saint-Luc Hospital of the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in Brussels, Belgium. For the study the women were divided up into two groups to receive one of two different VR programs administered prior to sedation for IVF treatment. The first was a virtual underwater walk cut off from all ambient sound, and the second was a specialized program called “Aqua” developed by Belgian clinical care company OnComfort. OnComfort describes Aqua on their website as a “Virtual reality experience to ease pain and anxiety,” focused on “progressive muscular relaxation,” “deep breathing training,” and “clinical hypnosis.”

Prof. Roelants’ team reported significant anxiety score reductions for both groups of women, both after the session and before leaving the hospital. Their findings have not yet been published in any reputable scientific journal as of this writing.

As for the obvious follow-up question: whether the women studied experienced higher or lower than normal IVF success rates, the research is a bit inconclusive. The majority of women in both groups had embryos successfully transferred during the procedure, although the percent of biologically-confirmed pregnancies was only 18% for the underwater walk group and 23% percent for the Aqua group. This difference between both these two percentages, and the overall success rate of the clinic isn’t wide enough to be statistically significant. “The small number of patients included at this time precludes any definitive conclusion,” said Roelants. “We need to repeat the study with around 300 patients in each group to come to definitive conclusions.”

Further Applications

Nobody really knows how to use new technology until someone shows them.

vr headset

Still, stress is always a symptom in need of curing, and popping on your VR headset and entering your happy place seems like a pretty appealing arrangement. The ability to reduce stress without resorting to potentially dangerous and illegal substances will be a boon for expectant mothers, professional athletes, recovering addicts and so many more people from all walks of life if virtually reality becomes a medically-accepted and endorsed means of treatment. This will likely also mean the birth of a whole new cabinet industry to program and develop these kinds of immersive stress-relief experiences. The aforementioned OnComfort are ahead of the curve in this area, as they’ve already published a handful of stress relief programs specifically for pediatric patients such as Kimo, a program for children undergoing chemotherapy, and Spacio, a program to help children deal with the stress of receiving an MRI.

The medical VR field is also flagged as another potential development area for the technology. Pediatric care is one obvious application, any child’s trip to the doctor’s office will start looking up if they think they get to play a video game, but adult patients can benefit too. OnComfort’s Amo program teaches patients to deal with postoperative pain through pain and anxiety self-management techniques valuable to patients of any age.VR may also help patients get a closer look than ever before at x-rays, test results, and the nitty gritty of the procedures and treatments their physician is proposing.

Living in the Future

There’s no telling how much VR will change our world.

girl with headset

With virtual reality only improving and becoming cheaper there’s no end to the ways it may impact your life both in and out of your IVF treatments. Movies of the future may eliminate theatres entirely and drop each individual viewer right into the middle of the action. Going to concerts or sporting events may soon be as simple as putting on your headset and finding a comfy chair. What are some ways you think VR will impact your day to day life? Let us know in the comments below. 

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