Gut-directed hypnotherapy delivered by psychologists can potentially offer a new treatment option for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), that affects around one in five people worldwide, say researchers.
IBS is a persistent and difficult-to-treat condition, with symptoms that can seriously affect quality of life including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, and constipation. For many sufferers, drug and dietary treatments are not successful.
According to the study, published in The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology journal, hypnotherapy helped relieve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms for some patients for as long as 9 nine months after the end of treatment.
These patients reported a greater overall improvement in their condition and were more able to cope with, and were less troubled by, their symptoms.
"We do not know exactly how gut-directed hypnotherapy works, but it may change patients' mindset and internal coping mechanisms, enabling them to increase their control over autonomic body processes, such as how they process pain and modulate gut activity," said lead researcher Carla Flik from the University Medical Centre in Netherlands.
"Our study indicates that hypnotherapy could be considered as a treatment option for patients with IBS, irrespective of symptom severity and IBS subtype."
The study involved 354 adults (aged 18-65 years) with IBS. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 45-minute individual sessions (150 patients) or group sessions (150) of hypnotherapy twice weekly for 6 weeks, or education and supportive care (54).
The treatment involved a technique of positive visualisation during which patients were given suggestions about how they could gain control over their digestive system to reduce feelings of pain and discomfort.
Results showed that group hypnotherapy is as effective as individual sessions, which may mean that more people could be treated with it at lower cost.
However, hypnotherapy did not appear to reduce the severity of symptoms, the researchers said.