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Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms helped by hypnosis

By Reuters - Dec 06,2018 - Last updated at Dec 06,2018

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Patients with irritable bowel syndrome may find that hypnotherapy helps them cope with their symptoms, a new study shows. 

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder with abdominal pain, stomach discomfort, altered bowel habits and other symptoms, the study authors explain in the journal Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 

“A lot of patients suffer from IBS worldwide, across age groups and cultures,” lead study author Carla Flik of the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, The Netherlands told Reuters Health by e-mail. 

Worldwide, the estimated prevalence of IBS is 11 per cent, ranging from 14 per cent to 24 per cent for women and 5 per cent to 19 per cent for men. Some medications are helpful, but there’s no cure. 

Flik and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial in 11 hospitals in The Netherlands. Altogether they enrolled 342 patients with IBS and randomly assigned them into three groups. For 12 weeks, 142 patients received individual hypnotherapy, 146 did group hypnotherapy and 54 got educational supportive therapy instead of hypnotherapy. 

Flik based the treatment on a protocol developed at the University Hospital of South Manchester in the UK in the 1980s. It is a “gut-directed” therapy that includes progressive relaxation, soothing imagery and a focus on easing the individual’s abdominal symptoms. 

Patients in the new study reported that hypnotherapy was helpful not just immediately after the 12-week treatment period but also during the next nine months. 

At the end of the follow-up period, 41 per cent of patients in the individual hypnotherapy group and 50 per cent who got group hypnotherapy reported adequate relief from their symptoms, compared to 23 per cent in the educational group. 

Olafur Palsson of the Centre for Functional GI and Motility Disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who wrote an editorial that was published with the study, told Reuters Health, “This is the largest trial of hypnosis treatment for IBS and in many ways is very well done.” 

“Psychological treatment has shown a high success rate in improving IBS,” he said in a phone interview. “Using the brain to help the gut is a different mechanism than using medications that treat the gut directly.” 

“Fundamentally, if the usual medical approaches don’t seem to be working well and you have persistent symptoms, this could be a good option,” Palsson said. 

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