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Friday, December 4, 1998 Published at 16:07 GMT


Computer game cure for stress

Computer games could help to cure stress

A computer game which works by the power of thought could help people with stress-related illnesses.

Doctors at the Royal Free Hospital in London have tested the game on 40 patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The syndrome, which causes abdominal pain and problems going to the toilet, affects 15% of the population.

Sixty per cent of cases are thought to be caused by stress.

The computer game uses lie detector technology to detect stress.

Lie detector pads

Patients are wired up to lie detector pads by nurses. By relaxing they can control their progress through a virtual bowel on the computer screen.

The aim is to progress through the bowel to red spots of pain or bubbly areas representing the bloated feeling suffered by some people with IBS.

[ image: The Royal Free Hospital has pioneered the virtual bowel game]
The Royal Free Hospital has pioneered the virtual bowel game
Once the patient has broken through those areas, they emerge into a country scene with a free-flowing stream, symbolising a problem-free bowel.

Dr Owen Epstein, head of the Royal Free's gastroenterology team, which pioneered the game, said it was based on software developed by a company called Ultramind.

"It is a very interesting technique. I hope it can be used in GP surgeries," he said.


He believes it could be used to treat other stress-related disorders, such as asthma, and could eventually be sold on the high street.

"There is the potential for selling them for use in the home, but I think there is more to them than just relaxation.

"There is a lot of value in the interaction between patient and the nurse who monitors the game," he said.

The two-year trials found that patients needed on average four half-hour sessions at the computer, making it simple and cheap to run.

The software costs between £100 and £200.

The patients also had to do some homework, for example, practising the relaxation techniques learnt through the game whenever they felt stressed and visualising the game five minutes every evening.

The findings of the Royal Free study are published by the Royal College of Physicians on Friday.

Dr Epstein hopes to continue with trials of the game and is hoping to use it to treat other bowel disorders, such as Crohn's Disease.

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