Study Reveals Hypnotherapy Could Help Relieve IBS Symptoms

Ellen Lees
By Ellen Lees,
updated on Nov 23, 2018

Study Reveals Hypnotherapy Could Help Relieve IBS Symptoms

Hypnotherapy may help relieve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms for some patients for as long as nine months after the end of treatment, according to study

The study, published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology journal, is the largest randomised trial of hypnotherapy for IBS to date, and one of the first conducted in primary care, where the vast majority of IBS patients are treated.

After three months of treatment, adequate relief of IBS symptoms was reported by more patients who received individual (40%) and group hypnotherapy (33%) than those given education and supportive care (17%), and these benefits persisted at nine months follow-up (42%, 50% and 22%).

The findings suggest that group hypnotherapy is as effective as individual sessions, which could enable many more patients with IBS to be treated at a reduced cost.

IBS patients undergoing hypnotherapy reported a greater overall improvement in their condition, and were more able to cope with, and were less troubled by their symptoms, compared to those who received educational supportive therapy. However, hypnotherapy did not appear to reduce the severity of symptoms.

While the findings are incredibly promising, the authors conclude that more research will be needed to test the optimum number of hypnotherapy sessions, how patient expectations may affect treatment outcome and the extent to which hypnotherapy outcomes are influenced by the magnitude of the psychological complaints of the patient.

Dr Carla Flik from the University Medical Center Utrecht, Netherlands, who led the research said: “It is also promising to see that group hypnotherapy is as effective as individual sessions, which may mean that more people could be treated with it at lower cost, should it be confirmed in further studies.

“What’s striking about these findings is the extent to which patient’s perception of their illness has an effect on their suffering, and that their perception of symptoms appears to be as important as actual symptom severity.”

IBS affects around one in five people worldwide, and 10-20% of people living in the UK. It is a persistent and difficult-to-treat condition, with symptoms that can seriously affect quality of life, including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. For many, drug and dietary treatments are not successful.

Psychological interventions have proven effective, but their use is limited by a shortage of trained therapists. Hypnotherapy has previously shown promising results for IBS, but the majority of studies have been carried out in specialist centres, and more research is needed into whether hypnotherapy is beneficial in primary and secondary care, where most patients are treated.

The Imagine Study

The study recruited 354 adults (aged 18-65 year) with IBS who were referred by primary care physicians and hospital specialists to 11 hospitals across the Netherlands between May 2011 and April 2016. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 45-minute individual sessions of hypnotherapy (150) or group sessions (150), twice weekly for six weeks, or education and supportive care (54).

Hypnotherapy treatment was provided by qualified professionals and involved a technique of positive visualisation, during which patients were given suggestions about how they could gain control over their digestive system to reduce feelings of pain and discomfort.

Patients were also given a CD so they could practice daily self-hypnosis exercises at home.

Results showed that immediately after treatment, participants in the two hypnotherapy groups reported satisfactory relief at substantially higher rates than those who received educational supportive care, and these benefits persisted for nine months after the treatment ended.

“We do not know exactly how gut-directed hypnotherapy works, but it may change patients’ mindset and internal coping mechanisms, enabling them to increase their control over autonomic body processes, such as how they process pain and modulate gut activity.”

Improvements in quality of life, psychological complaints, cognitions and reductions in medical costs and IBS-related work absence were similar between groups.

Learn more about hypnotherapy for IBS.

Hypnotherapy can be an effective treatment for many people, for many different concerns. From anxiety and phobias to public speaking, sleeping problems and even quitting smoking, hypnotherapy is a non-invasive treatment option that many people find beneficial.

If you are interested in hypnotherapy and would like to contact a therapist, visit Hypnotherapy Directory.

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