Biofeedback, or biological feedback, is a treatment technique in which individuals are trained to improve their health and well-being by using signals from their own bodies. Its underlying principle is that changes in thinking andemotions can result in corresponding physical changes in the body.

As a type of behavior therapy, biofeedback is used to treat stress-related problems by teaching people to consciously regulate mental and physical functions that are not ordinarily under their conscious control. Although results are not always clear-cut or permanent, many people find the technique beneficial.

People of all ages can learn biofeedback. It is a non-invasive, cost-effective, and relatively safe treatment that, if nothing else, makes people more aware of their bodies' functions and gives them an increased sense of responsibility about their health.

As an adjunct to conventional medicine, biofeedback should only be used afterpatients have undergone a thorough physical examination. If a medical consultation reveals serious symptoms or an underlying chronic disease, biofeedbackwill not prove helpful and can even cause harm in some conditions. In some cases, the failure of biofeedback to achieve the expected results can cause anxiety or lower a person's self-esteem, leading to additional problems. Also,some individuals may fail to transfer biofeedback skills to everyday life andcan become dependent upon their trainer.

The term "feedback" was first used in electronics to describe a loop in whichinformation about part of a system is recorded and fed back into that systemto adjust its operation. A house thermostat is a common example of a feedback mechanism. It monitors the temperature and sends a signal to the furnace toturn on or shut off to maintain the desired temperature. People react to feedback from their bodies all the time, as they respond to feelings of hunger by eating or to being winded by catching their breath.

As a treatment technique taught by a certified therapist, biofeedback uses various machines that monitor the performance of several body functions, such as heart rate, temperature, muscle tension, skin conductivity, and brain waves. Most people are only slightly aware of these functions since they are partof the autonomic nervous system that normally operates below conscious control. However, once patients are connected to sensors, the machine's readings oftheir body functions are translated into a signal they can see or hear. Patients are taught, through trial and error and continuous feedback, what they can do to modify a body function. With practice, they can learn, for example,to relax specific muscles.

Ideally, once patients are able to influence a body function by using feedback by using monitoring machines, they will be able to exercise the same control on their own. As a type of relaxation therapy, biofeedback is most effective for stress-related conditions and is used to lower blood pressure, preventheadaches, and reduce chronic pain. Biofeedback is often effective when insomnia is caused by an emotional rather than a physical problem. Patients with bruxism and temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) are helped when they learnto relax their facial muscles and jaws.

Once patients with asthma learn through biofeedback to control their breathing, their asthma-aggravating fear is reduced. Biofeedback has also been successful in treating chronic constipation, fecal and urinary incontinence, and irritable bowel syndrome, In controlling high blood pressure, relaxation techniques are best when combined with changes to lifestyle and diet.

Although there is some difference of opinion as to exactly how effective it is and in what circumstances, biofeedback has been thoroughly studied and reported in the scientific literature and has proven to be helpful. It is gainingacceptance in the medical community, and many insurance companies will coverpart of its cost. Biofeedback is an additional tool, not a substitute for medical treatment. The duration of treatment depends on the condition of the patient, and can be considered completed when the patient can effectively alterbody functions when needed without the assistance of monitoring instruments.

Biofeedback cannot magically erase stress, but in those patients willing to invest the time and effort to achieve results, it often proves beneficial. A positive biofeedback experience often leaves patients with a feeling that of gaining mastery over their bodies. Many find that they gain a real sense of being more responsible for their own health.

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