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What Is a Biofeedback Monitor?

A boy connected to an EEG machine, which provides biofeedback.
The electromyogram is a kind of biofeedback device used to help relieve stress-induced conditions, such as tension headaches.
Article Details
  • Written By: A. Gabrenas
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 20 June 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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A biofeedback monitor is a device that allows a person to monitor certain processes going on in the body. Depending on the type of biofeedback monitor used, the device may measure pulse, muscle tension, sweat levels, body temperature, breathing rates, or brain activity. These processes are closely tied to certain conditions, including those that stress the body, such as anxiety and pain. The idea behind biofeedback therapy is that by monitoring the processes that occur in the body, a person can learn to control them. Ultimately, the goal is for the person to learn how to reduce the symptoms he or she is experiencing.

Several common types of biofeedback monitors measure electrical activity and report that activity to the user in the form of an audio or visual cue. One such type of biofeedback monitor is an electrodermograph. This device may be used to treat anxiety disorders and phobias. It measures electrical activity in the skin by monitoring sweat levels in the fingers or palms.

In general, as a person experiences more stress, he or she begins to produce more sweat. As sweat levels increase, so does electrical activity. When using electrodermography, this increase in activity may be conveyed to the user by a beeping sound. The beeps often grow closer together and higher pitched as sweat levels increase. As the person becomes more relaxed and sweat levels decrease, the pitch typically becomes lower and the beeps grow further apart.

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The goal of therapy in this case is to help the person learn to control the beeping, and thereby his or her reaction to stress. This is often achieved through deep breathing, meditation, visualization, or other relaxation methods. Over time, the intent is for the person to become so adept at controlling his or her reactions that he or she can do it without the biofeedback monitor.

Another type of biofeedback monitor that measures electrical activity is an electromyograph (EMG). Instead of measuring electrical activity through sweat, an EMG measures it through muscle activity. The tenser the muscles are, the more electrical activity the EMG device picks up on. Because of the focus on muscle activity, EMG biofeedback machines may be used for conditions that are worsened by excessive muscle tension, such as back pain, migraines, and tension headaches.

In biofeedback therapy, EMG therapy is usually achieved through electrodes placed on the skin over specific muscles. For example, if a person is experiencing back pain, the electrodes will likely be placed directly on the back. As the person sees or hears increasing muscle activity on the monitor, he or she can then utilize relaxation methods to try to reduce the tension, and thereby reduce the pain associated with it.

One last common type of biofeedback monitor that measures electrical activity is an electroencephalograph (EEG). It measures electrical activity in the brain through electrodes placed on the skin of the scalp. Brain activity is measured through these sensors and translated onto a video screen.

EEG biofeedback therapy is sometimes used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For ADHD treatment, the results of the EEG are often translated into a video game, which the person receiving treatment then has to control with his or her brain. Typically, the person does better in the game when he or she stays focused, as evidenced by his or her brain waves. If the person's attention wanders, he or she does worse in the game or the game shuts off. The goal of this type of EEG biofeedback treatment is to help the person learn to focus his or her thoughts more effectively.

Other less common types of biofeedback devices may be used to treat various other conditions. It is generally recommended that people speak with a health care provider who is trained in biofeedback therapy before using a biofeedback monitor. This usually will help a patient find the type of biofeedback monitor that will work best with his or her condition.

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