Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the digestive system and gut that causes the bowel to be very sensitive.
There is no cure as such for irritable bowel syndrome, but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recognised hypnotherapy as one treatment for managing the symptoms of IBS (1).
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel syndrome is a common digestive disorder. Perhaps 25% of the population are affected. It affects both men and women equally and can occur at any age.
Symptoms vary from person to person, ranging from being a nuisance for some to seriously affecting quality of life for others. In 10% of cases, symptoms are severe enough to interfere with normal life, such as work, travelling, social activities. The symptoms may include:
Abdominal pain (mild to severe)
Change in bowel habits (pain, constipation or chronic diarrhoea)
Bloated abdomen, passing excess wind, feeling sick and indigestion.
(NB. These symptoms may be caused by problems other than IBS. You should visit your GP for advice).
The precise causes of IBS are not known but doctors suggest it could be brought on by a variety of things such as food (fatty foods, foods that give wind, fizzy drinks, tea or coffee), exercise, hormones and stress. It may be a combination of the above factors. However, it is generally accepted that psychological issues play a major role in triggering the symptoms.
Stress is a major factor in IBS. Sufferers have a bowel that over-responds to stress: it has become hypersensitive and their pain threshold is lowered. Which is why hypnotherapy is so effective in this area.
The Research about hypnotherapy for IBS
The pioneering research of NHS consultant Dr Peter Whorwell in the UK has shown that treatment of IBS with hypnotherapy can have an impressive success rate, even in cases where all other forms of therapy have failed (2). The patients in these research trials were showing severe symptoms and had been unresponsive to treatments, but following hypnotherapy treatment, they showed a “dramatic improvement in all central symptom” (2).
In a 2015 study with a larger group of one thousand IBS patients receiving 12 sessions of hypnotherapy over 3 months, the primary outcome was a 50 point reduction in the IBS Symptom Severity Score (4)
Furthermore, the various researches shows that the improvement continues long-term, with patients showing no signs of relapse after 3 months (2) and benefits being sustained for a period of up to 1 year (3).
A graph, adapted from the above cited research, shows the differences between the Hypnosis patients and the control group (placebo) in recurrence of two of the main IBS symptoms (2):
Hypnosis offers excellent prospects of success with IBS and is gaining much interest and credibility in the medical profession in Europe and the USA.
There are various claims for how many sessions are needed. Whorwell's authoritative research indicates that up to 12 sessions may be needed, but it can be less.
NICE : Clinical guideline [CG61](2017) “Irritable bowel syndrome in adults: diagnosis and management”
Controlled trial of hypnotherapy in the treatment of severe refractory irritable-bowel syndrome. / Whorwell, P. J.; Prior, A.; Faragher, E. B., In: The Lancet, Vol. 2, No. 8414, 1984, p. 1232-1234.
Effects of Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy on IBS in Different Clinical Settings-Results From Two Randomized, Controlled Trials; The American Journal of Gastroenterology 107(2):276-85; February 2012, Lindfors et al, Am J Gastroenterol
Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics (March 2015) Hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome: an audit of one thousand adult patients, V. Miller et Al.