Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Evidenced Based Hypnotherapy

IBS is usually referred to as a disorder of the digestive system and the gut that can affect as many as one in five people with women being more likely to suffer from the condition (Bupa, 2013). The symptoms include diarrhoea, pain and bloating. The causes of IBS are not clear with competing theories suggesting a hypersensitive colon, failure of the muscles of the bowel to contract normally, heightened awareness of the digestive system and the experience of intense stress and anxiety. Constant long term stimulation stimulation of the body’s sympathetic nervous system and excessive release of stress hormones, including cortisol, can disrupt the functioning of many other internal processes. It increases the risk potential for the development of adverse health conditions including not only digestive problems, but also weight gain, heart disease, sleep issues, depression, memory and concentration impairment (Mayo Clinic, 2013).

A clinical diagnosis of IBS can only be made by medical doctor after a complete case history and examination has been carried out and after other conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases have been eliminated. The majority of people with IBS can be helped with a range of treatments as no one treatment will work with everyone. The different approaches include changes to lifestyle, drugs, mindfulness and hypnotherapeutic. Professor Peter Whorwell, from the department of Medicine and Gastroenterology at Manchester University’s Medical School is a world leading researcher into IBS, has been investigating the application of gut directed hypnosis for nearly thirty years. In one study, 250 patients who had IBS for over 2 years, were given 12 one hour sessions. He comments that “IBS is ideal for treatment with hypnosis, as there is no structural damage to the body,” and explains, “During the hypnotherapy, suffers learn how to influence and gain control of their gut function, and then seem able to change the way the brain modulates their gut activity” (Medical News Today, 2005). Professor Whorwell reports a success rate of around 70%, which means that hypnotherapy appears to help a majority of sufferers but is not effective for all.

An American review of 14 published studies (Tan et al, 2005) states that use of “hypnosis with IBS qualifies at the highest level of acceptance as being both efficacious and specific.” The UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence comment that many trials are small in size and hypnotherapy, along with other psychological interventions are thought to be helpful with enabling IBS sufferers manage their symptoms (2008).

Medical News Today Treating IBS with hypnotherapy, University of Manchester, UK (28 Sep 2005) (accessed 10 Aug 13).
NICE (2008) Irritable bowel syndrome in adults: Diagnosis and management of irritable bowel syndrome in primary care (accessed 10 Aug 13).
Tan, G., Hammond, D. and Guerraia, J. (2005) Hypnosis and irritable bowel syndrome: A Review of Efficacy and Mechanism of Action, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, vol. 47 issue 3, 2005, (accessed 10 Aug 13)

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