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Hypnosis for IBS – A review study

IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects approximately 10 to 15% of the population and is one of the most common complaints seen by gastroenterologists. IBS symptoms can range widely and can encompass severe abdominal pain, constipation to non-colonic symptoms such as back pain, lethargy and nausea. It is said that IBS is multifactorial in nature and the following are thought to contribute to its incidence: Dietary factors, psychological factors, inheritance, inflammation, motility, visceral sensitivity and central processing. Common treatment for IBS includes medication, but overall unsatisfactory results let this research team from the University of Manchester study hypnotherapy as a treatment option for this condition.

This team in the early 1980’s developed a gut focused hypnotic technique that depended on the patient having some knowledge of the gut and bowel. Once the patient was educated on its processes, they were given an introduction session of hypnosis that simply focused on relaxation – this so that they could simply get used to the hypnotic phenomenon. In subsequent sessions, patients were given direct and indirect suggestions on how they were in fact, in control of their gut function. Guided imagery was the basis for many of these suggestions. Each session lasted from half an hour to an hour and were quite repetitive in nature. Sessions were repeated on a weekly basis for up to three months.

In this first study that looked at the efficacy of this treatment 30 IBS patients were randomized into either seven half hour hypnotic sessions using this gut focused technique or into a supportive therapy that used placebo medication. The study found that patients receiving the hypnosis showed a statistically significant improvement in abdominal bloating, pain, bowel dysfunction and general well being than the control group.

In the team’s latest study into this area, twenty six patients were given twelve sessions of hypnosis at intervals of a week and twenty four patients received supportive treatment plus the placebo for the same period of time. Twenty nine patients were also randomized into a conventional medical treatment. The study found that after 12 weeks, 60% of the IBS patients in the hypnotherapy group improved compared with 41% that received medical treatment and 34% that received supportive therapy. One year after the study, patients in the hypnotherapy group continued to improve with respect to their IBS symptoms unlike the medical group and supportive group whose results remained unchanged. Not one patient of the hypnotherapy group switched groups to receive medical treatment, whereas 82% and 90% of patients in the supportive and medical group required medication for their IBS condition.

The review found that its quite speculative as to how hypnosis serves the purpose of reducing symptoms but it is seen as a being a mechanism or at least, or a means of having an effect on both psychological and physiological processes aiding condition relief.

The review found in its conclusion that patients undergoing hypnosis for IBS had a 60% to 70% chance of improvement with respect to their IBS symptoms. The hypnotherapy was shown to improve in these patients a variety of physiological processes that are typically considered abnormal with the condition of IBS. The study found that these patients were more likely to go back to work, take less medication, and seek medical care less frequently. The study found that hypnosis and hypnotherapy form a valuable treatment that should be included in any conventional approaches to treat the condition of IBS.

Miller, V., & Whorwell, P. (2009). Hypnotherapy for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: A Review. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 57(3), 279-292. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.


Filed under: IBS,Pain

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