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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

Hypnosis for Irritable Bowel

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Hypnotherapy can be used in combination with drugs that ease the pain of stomach contractions, or with changes in diet. But Whorwell believes that for some patients hypnosis can be superior.

"The beauty of hypnotherapy is that once patients are better, they stay better," he says. "Once a person stops using drugs, the symptoms can come back."

Whorwell acknowledges that finding a hypnotherapist who knows what he is doing and -- more important -- knows about IBS, can be difficult. And hypnotherapy remains somewhat outside the mainstream, he believes.

Still, a 1996 statement by the American Gastroenterological Association suggests that hypnotherapy is generally accepted as a treatment for IBS.

"Several psychological treatments have been studied in patients with IBS, including psychotherapy, ... hypnosis, relaxation, and biofeedback," according to the statement. "These seem to be effective at reducing abdominal pain and diarrhea but not constipation, and they also reduce anxiety and other psychological symptoms."

"I'm a believer," says gastroenterologist Cynthia M. Yoshida, MD, director of the Women's GI Clinic at the Digestive Health Center of Excellence at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. "Most people in the field will tell you it's not just medicine that does it [for IBS]."

At the Women's Clinic, people with IBS may receive a range of "alternative" treatments similar to hypnosis, including guided imagery and relaxation techniques, possibly in addition to drugs and dietary changes.

"It's very individualized depending on what is going on in the patient's life and whether stress is a big part of their symptoms," she tells WebMD. "There is no cookbook for treating IBS."

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