Study Shows Hypnotherapy Is an Effective Part of Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Patients with refractory IBS who incorporated weekly sessions of gut-directed hypnotherapy into their treatment report significant long-term improvements in quality of life.

Researchers from the Department of Internal Medicine III, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, recently published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology results from a study that looked at the use of gut-directed hypnotherapy (GHT) in the treatment of refractory irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

For the study, 100 patients who had been diagnosed with IBS according to the Rome III criteria, and whose disease had proven refractory to standard treatment, were randomized to receive either supportive talks with medical treatment (SMT) or SMT with GHT (10 weekly sessions within 12 weeks). The primary endpoint of the study was “a clinically important improvement on several dimensions of daily life (assessed by IBS impact scale) after treatment and 12-month follow-up.” Secondary end points for the study included improvement in general quality of life (as measured by the Medical Outcome Study Short-Form-36), improvement in psychological status (measured with the Hospital Anxiety Depression Scale), and “reduction of single IBS symptoms.”

The authors reported that following treatment, “28 (60.8%) out of 46 GHT patients and 18 (40.9%) out of 44 SMTs improved.” They also found that treatment with GHT plus SMT “improved physical and psychological well being significantly more than SMT alone.” Based on these results, the authors concluded that “GHT improves IBS-related QOL, is superior to SMT alone, and shows a long-term effect even in refractory IBS.”

This is just the latest research to verify the efficacy of incorporating hypnotherapy into the treatment regimen of patients with IBS.

Last year, researchers at The Sahlgrenska Academy of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, conducted studies that “showed that hypnotherapy alleviated symptoms in 40 per cent of those affected — and that the improvement is long-term.” In one study of 138 patients with IBS who received hypnotherapy treatment for one hour a week over 12 weeks, researchers reported that 40% of patients who received hypnotherapy “demonstrated a satisfactory reduction in symptoms, compared with 12 per cent in the untreated control group.” These results were “sustained for the entire year for which the study ran and led to an improvement in the quality of life experienced by the treatment group.” In another study of 208 patients with IBS who had previously received hypnosis treatment, 85% of patients who had experienced improvements in their symptoms following treatment by hypnosis “still felt the benefits of the treatment up to seven years later.”

A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis also found that hypnosis was an effective part of treatment for patients with IBS. The authors reviewed 14 studies on the use of hypnosis to treat IBS and concluded that “that hypnosis consistently produces significant results and improves the cardinal symptoms of IBS in the majority of patients, as well as positively affecting non-colonic symptoms. When evaluated according to the efficacy guidelines of the Clinical Psychology Division of American Psychological Association, the use of hypnosis with IBS qualifies for the highest level of acceptance as being both efficacious and specific. In reviewing the research on the mechanism of action as to how hypnosis works to reduce symptoms of IBS, some evidence was found to support both physiological and psychological mechanisms of action.”