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Virtual Reality Analgesia in Labor: The VRAIL pilot study
Abstract Number: T-24
Abstract Type: Original Research
Intro: Virtual reality (VR) distraction has been studied since 2000 in a wide variety of clinical settings to manage pain and distress. Until recently, the high cost of VR systems remained inhibitory to its use outside of research studies; however, with the current proliferation of high-definition mobile phone screens, VR systems are now readily available to consumers. This is the first study to investigate the effects of immersive VR distraction on the pain of childbirth in laboring women.
An immersive VR experience was developed for this study using all consumer-ready, off-the-shelf components and software. In a randomized, controlled, within-subjects (crossover) study, we examine the effects of immersive VR on subjective pain during the first stage of labor in 30 women. Participants spend equivalent time in both the virtual environment and control condition (natural childbirth without medications or systematic distraction). Numeric rating scale (NRS) scores assessing the sensory, affective, and cognitive components of pain, as well as nausea and anxiety scores are obtained for each treatment condition. Secondary outcomes measure patient perceptions of the VR experience.
Preliminary descriptive results on the first 18 patients show considerable decreases (23-41%) in the three pain ratings during VR compared to control, with half of patients reporting a decrease of 3 or more in “time spent thinking about pain” on a 10-point NRS. Of those reporting anxiety in the control condition, VR decreased anxiety scores by 45%. The incidence and magnitude of nausea were lower in the VR condition than in control. The reported depth of immersion in the VR experience was not associated with feeling absent from the birth experience while using VR. 82.4% of subjects preferred the VR treatment over no VR. Greater than 75% would use VR again and be interested in new VR content development specifically for use during labor.
These preliminary results suggest that (1) immersive VR distraction may be an effective nonpharmacologic analgesic and anxiolytic during child birth, and (2) it is possible to create VR experiences that are well tolerated during labor without causing nausea using low-cost consumer-ready components.