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Therapy, Hypnosis for Irritable Bowel?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Hypnosis May Help Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 24, 2006 -- Some people may cope better with irritable bowel syndrome(IBS)irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with help from cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnosis, three new studies show.

The studies were presented in Los Angeles, at Digestive Disease Week 2006, an international meeting of doctors, researchers, and academics.

One of the studies used cognitive behavioral therapy to teach IBS patients new ways to handle their condition. The other two studies tested hypnosis in IBS patients who hadn't been helped by other treatments.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnosis were each linked to improvements in gastrointestinal symptoms, the studies show.

Not 'Hocus-pocus'

The hypnosis researchers included Magnus Simren, MD, of Sahlgrenska University Hospital's internal medicine department in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Hypnotherapy is already used to treat IBS patients, mainly at a few highly specialized gastrointestinal centers, Simren told reporters in a conference call. His team used two more common settings: a university hospital and a county hospital.

Exactly how hypnosis helps IBS isn't clear. Simren, a gastroenterologist, admits having his doubts that patients would give it a try.

"When I started with this, I was a little bit afraid that patients would be hesitant, that they would think this is hocus-pocus. But they are very open-minded to this," he says.

"When I speak to the patient, I tell them that this is a way that you can get control over your symptoms," says Simren. "They are quite satisfied with that explanation."

Hypnosis Studies

Simren's hypnosis studies had a combined total of 135 IBS patients. The patients' average age was 41; most were women.

In both studies, participants were split into two groups. One group got 12 weekly one-hour hypnotherapy sessions focused on gut-related problems. For comparison, the second group didn't get hypnosis.

In one study, the comparison group got 12 weeks of attention from doctors and nutritionists. In the other study, the comparison group got no special care.

The patients rated their gastrointestinal symptoms, quality of life, and depressiondepression at the study's start, immediately after 12 weeks of treatment, and again six and 12 months later.

During the hypnosis sessions, patients were guided into a "relaxational trance," says Simren, in which patients imagined calming images like a gently flowing river.

Simren didn't hypnotize any of the patients. The hypnosis sessions were conducted by trained hypnotherapists.

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