Hypnosis Relieves Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

This article was originally written by Paul Gustafson RN, BSN, CH

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastro-intestinal (GI) condition with no known cause or cure. Symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, cramping, gas, pain or bloating. Symptoms run in cycles lasting for days, months or years. IBS can be disabling and force many sufferers to feel like prisoners in their own homes.
Traditional intervention includes high fiber diets, antispasmodic and antidiarrhea medications, sedatives and antidepressants which offer relief only 25% of the time. Because IBS is not life threatening, is not a precursor to acute illness and is undetectable with diagnostic equipment, sufferers are usually told they have to live with it. Thankfully this is not the case. Hypnosis has been researched for over 20 years and stands alone as the most effective option for long-term IBS relief. Its success rate is consistently 70-95% and relief usually lasts at least two years. (2)
IBS is an enormous problem affecting 35 million Americans and 4 of 5 are women. It is more common than asthma, diabetes, acid reflux and depression combined. IBS is responsible for 10% of all primary physician visits and is also the 2nd leading cause for employee absenteeism and costs the US 8 billion dollars a year.
Diagnosing IBS is no simple task. First the physician needs to rule out infections, parasites, lactose intolerance, Crohn’s disease, celiac and gallbladder disease, dumping syndrome, ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease before an IBS diagnosis can be made.
The onset of symptoms ranges between the ages of 20-29 in adults and 9-11 in children. Some clients can trace the symptoms back to a traumatic event, illness or injury. Some begin having symptoms early in life for no apparent reason at all. IBS is also known to be generational. Many IBS sufferers go through life with no concept of what normal GI function is like.
Symptoms can be exacerbated by stress, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, foods high in animal or vegetable fat, food dyes, artificial sweeteners, food or medication sensitivities or hormone fluctuation, but none are the cause. Some research indicates that IBS sufferers may have an abundance of specialized cells in the intestinal tract making them more reactive and sensitive. (1)
The irregularity of the GI tract is what is responsible for all the problems. If it moves too quickly the body doesn’t absorb what it needs resulting in diarrhea. If it moves too slowly the body absorbs too much resulting in constipation. This erratic pattern can also dramatically affect how nutrients are absorbed and how well the colon absorbs waste out of the blood stream.
Hypnosis has a long history cluttered with myths, misinformation and manipulation. Most people only know about stage hypnosis but there is also a serious minded clinical side that is quickly establishing a foothold as a viable compliment to mainstream medicine. Hypnosis is the simple process of accessing subconscious thought which is where all of our habits, patterns, values and beliefs reside. With hypnosis clients are empowered to embrace healthier patterns of nutrition, exercise and to release unhealthy patterns like smoking in favor of more positive ones.
The subconscious mind is also our body’s control center which regulates our inner network of complicated mechanisms. It regulates our heart and respiratory rate and controls the thousands of metabolic functions which occur automatically everyday of our lives. With unique access to this immensely powerful place hypnosis can also positively redirect specific areas of GI function, dramatically reduce stress, improve compliance with medication and diet regimes and also help clients see themselves as healthy and whole again. It gives them the feeling of control.
Hypnosis is by no means a magic pill. Success requires clients to be open to the process and motivated to assume responsibility for their recovery. Hypnotherapy for IBS relief involves up to several months of treatment and listening to recorded sessions at home. There are, however, some who do not respond as well as others. This includes clients over 50 years of age, those not open to the process and those with psychiatric disorders. One study indicates males with diarrhea as their major symptom as another group who do not experience as much relief. (2)
The steady accumulation of positive scientific research is the reason hypnosis has finally begun to gain acceptance. For over 20 years researchers like Olafur S. Palsson, Peter Whorwell, William Gonsalkorale and L.A. Houghton have been studying the benefits of hypnosis for IBS symptom relief. The following are brief descriptions of some of their findings.
One study compared 25 severe IBS clients treated with hypnosis to 25 patients with similar symptoms treated with other methods. The hypnosis group showed that in addition to significant IBS symptom relief they had fewer MD visits, lost less work time and rated an improved quality of life. Hypnosis clients unable to work before treatment went back to work afterwards. The study shows the economic benefits and improved health-related quality of life. (3)
Another study which is the largest to date followed 250 IBS clients who were treated with 12 hypnosis sessions over a 3-month period and they also listened to recorded sessions at home. The conclusions showed dramatic improvement in all IBS symptoms. The average reduction in symptoms was more than 50% as well as increased quality of life and relief from anxiety and depression. (4)
Lastly, the longest study to date treated and followed 204 IBS clients for up to 6 years. 71% showed immediate improvement, and 81% of this group was still improved years later. Quality of life scores were also still significantly improved at follow-up. Patients had less MD visits and required less medication long-term after hypnotherapy. Results indicate that most hypnosis clients benefit for at least five years. (5)
Hypnosis isn’t magic but can seem magical. Think of it as a daydream by design. It is a wonderful escape into an inner peacefulness that not only feels good but can be extremely good for you. In addition to offering IBS symptom relief clients also become more relaxed, focused and centered in general and much less affected by the day-to-day distractions of life.
(1) Melissa J. Roth C.Ht., Ph.D.; Hypnosis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
(2) Olafur S. Palsson, Psy.D. Hypnosis Treatment of IBS, Participate, Fall 2002
(3) Houghton LA; Heyman DJ; Whorwell PJ.Aliment Pharmacol Ther, Feb 1996.
(4) Gonsalkorale WM, Houghton LA, Whorwell PJ. Am J Gastroenterol 2002
(5) Gonsalkorale WM, Miller V, Afzal A, Whorwell PJ. Gut Nov 2003.