Hypnotherapy for IBS? What you should know

Hypnotherapy for IBS? Research paints a positive picture.
Hypnotherapy for IBS? Research paints a positive picture.

Hypnotherapy involves the use of hypnosis as a therapeutic technique for various health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and addiction.

A previous Health24 article discussed the successful use of hypnotherapy to reduce IBS symptoms in children. 

However, the benefits of hypnotherapy as a technique to reduce IBS symptoms are currently still controversial – and research and discussion are ongoing. 

According to research recently published in The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology, hypnotherapy in both group and individual sessions can help those with IBS manage their symptoms better and bring some relief.

“Regardless of the severity of their symptoms or their subtype, patients with IBS should consider hypnotherapy treatment,” said Carla Flik of the Julius Centre for Health Sciences and Primary Care at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in a press release.

“It is also promising to see that group hypnotherapy is as effective as individual sessions, which may mean that more people could be treated in groups at lower cost, should this conclusion be confirmed in further studies,” she said in the release. 

Why hypnotherapy?

According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFGD), hypnosis has already been shown to be an effective treatment for IBS in a number of previous clinical studies, including this one from 2003 published in BMJ Gut. This specific study states that 71% of the subjects responded well to hypnotherapy.

Hypnotherapy is done to achieve progressive relaxation, and involves soothing imagery and sensations to reduce an individual's symptoms.

Up to now, the exact cause for IBS hasn’t been established completely, although it has been established that stress and the mental health of an individual are strongly linked to IBS. Evidence from research has shown that psychological stress has significant impact on intestinal sensitivity, the underlying mechanism of the digestive system, the immune activation in the gut, the central nervous system, as well as the microbiota in the gut.

Because of the strong evidence linking stress to IBS, hypnotherapy has been placed under the spotlight to see whether it can have any impact on the symptoms of those with IBS. And according to the IFGD, hypnotherapy does help improve the primary symptoms of IBS in patients. It may also help relieve other symptoms linked to IBS such as fatigue and backache.

Not a cure-all

It should, however, be noted that hypnosis cannot be seen as a cure for IBS. Up to 25% of cases fail to respond to hypnotherapy, according to the IFGD. And when hypnotherapy has a significant effect on symptoms, other treatments such as medication and diet should never be ignored.

Even when patients are benefiting from hypnotherapy, medication still has its place. Loperamide or a laxative can be very useful in providing relief from accompanying diarrhoea or constipation.

How long do the effects of hypnotherapy last?

According to the IFGD, most people treated with hypnotherapy remain well for up to five years after a course of treatment. Patients should, however, not stop taking their medication without consulting their doctor. 

What you should know before trying hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy can be a time-consuming and expensive option. Patients should also be aware that not all therapists are licensed to practise clinical hypnosis. Here’s what you should know:

  • No treatment for IBS should be given without the knowledge of a licensed medical professional. Inform your doctor about your decision, especially if you are already undergoing treatment for IBS.
  • Do not stop your existing treatment when undergoing hypnotherapy. Always consult your doctor before making any treatment changes.
  • Make sure that you find a skilled hypnotherapist. This can be done by consulting the South African Institute of Hypnotism. Note that not all hypnotherapists are equipped to treat medical issues – check their credentials first.
  • Know and understand that hypnotherapy is not enough to treat IBS effectively, as specific procedures directly involving your digestive system (such as X-rays, tests and scans) are also needed.

Disclaimer: This article is meant to be informative and is in no way an endorsement or suggestion by the author. Individuals should always consult a medical professional before attempting any alternative treatment methods.

Image credit: iStock

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