Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for Visual Snow Syndrome

Welcome to our guide on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for Visual Snow Syndrome (VSS). This guide will provide you with information about MBCT, including what it is and how it is being studied as an effective treatment option for VSS.

What is MBCT?

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) offers a noninvasive and multifaceted approach to managing Visual Snow Syndrome (VSS) by modulating dysfunctional visual networks in the brain to help improve (visual and non-visual) VSS symptoms, promoting neuroplasticity, regulating neurotransmitter activity, reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, managing discomfort and sensory disturbances, improving emotional regulation, alleviating pain, and encouraging neural changes linked to enhancements in immune function. By targeting these interconnected physiological mechanisms, MBCT may help improve outcomes and quality of life for individuals living VSS. In recent studies, MBCT has been explored as a treatment option specifically for VSS.

Research indicates that MBCT can help effectively address neurological conditions, such as VSS, through its impact on neurotransmitters and other interconnected physiological mechanisms, as well as by inducing neuroplasticity. MBCT can initiate neuroplastic structural and functional changes in the brain, promoting the growth of new neural connections and rewiring existing ones. Mindfulness-based cognitive practices have also been associated with neurotransmitter regulations, specifically alterations in neurotransmitter levels such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Additionally, these practices can also help reduce the activation of the body’s stress response system. This result can lead to lower levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which have been implicated in neurodegenerative processes and cognitive decline. Moreover, this approach may help regulate the functioning of the limbic system and have effect on the activation of the body’s endogenous opioid system, allowing individuals to process sensations without becoming overwhelmed by them.

MBCT has recently been modified by Neurologist, Neuro-ophthalmologist, Consultant for St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Moorfields Private Eye Hospital, and Vice President of the UK Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, Dr. Sui Wong, to treat both the visual and non-visual symptoms of VSS (see below). Dr. Wong’s research has employed MRI scans of the brain and patients reports, which have revealed that her modified MBCT program for VSS, known as MBCT-vision, is capable of modulating dysfunctional visual networks in the brain and improving VSS symptoms.

VSS is associated with functional connectivity dysregulation of visual networks, meaning that there is a disruption in the brain networks that involve the visual pathway. Based on previous research demonstrating that intense mindfulness training can alter brain pathways, Dr. Wong, the principal investigator of MBCT intervention for VSS, customized MBCT to target and modulate these dysfunctional visual networks. This MBCT-based treatment option for both the visual and non-visual symptoms of VSS is called MBCT-vision. In addition to the areas addressed using standard MBCT, MBCT-vision also encompasses visual disturbances, such as visual snow/static, photophobia, trailing phenomenon, and visual aura.

Research showed that MBCT-vision was correlated with a change in the brain’s visual network and effective at improving both visual and non-visual VSS symptoms for study participants. Participants not only reported symptom reduction, but MRI scans also demonstrated measurable changes in brain activity before and after undergoing MBCT-vision.

Partially-funded by the Visual Snow Initiative (VSI), Dr. Wong and her team’s research marks the first-ever investigation of a cognitive behavioral and mindfulness-based intervention within the VSS patient population. 

Current and Future MBCT Studies

Dr. Wong presented she and her team’s findings at the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society (NANOS) Conference. The study, “Visual Snow Syndrome Improves With Modulation of Resting-State Functional MRI Connectivity After Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy: An Open-Label Feasibility Study”, has been be published in the Journal of Neuro-Ophthalmology. These promising results demonstrated the necessity for further investigation into MBCT-vision and its benefits for VSS patients.

Expanding upon Dr. Wong’s first study, VSI has now funded a second, larger Randomized Control Trial (RCT) that will test how MBCT/MBCT-vision can improve the brain’s visual network to filter out the unwanted images to improve or resolve symptoms of VSS. Dr. Wong will also be taking blood samples from study participants that could potentially reveal anomalies in the VSS patient population.

For additional information, please visit the MBCT-vision website or contact: [email protected]

Meet the Team

Dr. Sui Wong, Neurologist, Neuro-ophthalmologist, Consultant for St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Moorfields Private Eye Hospital, and Vice President of the UK Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, has conducted the first-ever research study in which MBCT/MBCT-vision was utilized as a treatment for VSS.

Email: [email protected]

Additional Resources

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