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Crohn's Disease Health Center

Therapy, Hypnosis for Irritable Bowel?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Hypnosis May Help Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
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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.

Symptoms Lessened With Hypnosis

"The hypnotherapy groups improved significantly in both studies regarding gastrointestinal symptoms and the control groups did not," Simren says.

Significant improvement (meaning improvement not likely due to chance) in gastrointestinal symptoms was seen in 52% of the hypnotherapy groups, compared with 32% of the comparison groups.

The improvements were mainly seen with symptoms of abdominal pain, distension, and bloating, rather than for bowel habits, the study shows.

"We believe that with this study we have really demonstrated that this can be performed outside highly specialized GI centers," Simren says, adding that hypnotherapy seems to have a "good effect" with symptom relief sustained after a year.

The long-term results were "promising," says Simren. "So it was good in the short-term; it also seemed to work in the long run with these patients."

Learning to Cope With IBS

Another team of researchers tested cognitive behavioral therapy on 59 IBS patients, most of whom were women.

The researchers included Jeffrey Lackner, PsyD, of the University of Buffalo, which is part of the State University of New York.

"Our work was based on a couple of beliefs," Lackner told reporters, in a teleconference. "One is that at this point, there are no pharmacological treatments or drug therapies that seem to be satisfactory for the full range of symptoms. And so the real burden of managing IBS really rests on the shoulders of patients on a day-to-day basis."

"Managing symptoms really comes down to having a set of skills," Lackner says. Those skills are often taught over 10 to 20 weeks, which is "very impractical for a significant proportion of patients," says Lackner, noting a shortage of therapists trained in cognitive behavior therapy for IBS patients.

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