How Hypnotherapy Helps IBS
A number of clinical studies have found hypnotherapy to be an effective intervention and treatment for IBS and it is now recognised as such by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – hypnotherapy helps IBS.
What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, functional disorder of the digestive system and gut. It is defined as a collection of symptoms including cramps, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhoea and constipation lasting three months or more. Whilst uncomfortable and sometimes awkward, IBS does not present a serious threat to health and most people can ease the symptoms with the right interventions.
IBS is thought to affect around one in five people during their lifetime.
What causes IBS?
Although the exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is unknown, most experts believe it to be related to problems with digestion and increased sensitivity of the gut.
A healthy digestive system will move food along by rhythmically squeezing and relaxing the muscles of the intestines. If, however, this process occurs either too quickly or too slowly, then it will cause either diarrhoea (if there is insufficient time to absorb water before the food is passed) or constipation (if the food remains in the gut too long and more water is absorbed than would normally be the case).
Many sensations in the body come from nerves in our digestive system which relay signals to our brain that we are hungry, or full or need the toilet, for example. It is thought that these signals that travel back and forth from the brain to the gut become disrupted or over-sensitized in some way with the result that an episode of mild indigestion that would be barely noticeable in most people may be experienced as severe abdominal pain in an IBS sufferer.
An increase in serotonin levels, which can occur after eating certain foods can also trigger IBS. Recognized triggers include alcohol, fizzy drinks, chocolate, caffeine, processed snacks such as crisps and biscuits and fatty or fried foods. Keeping a food diary may be a useful way of identifying possible triggers in your diet.
However, there is also evidence to suggest that psychological factors play an important role in IBS. Indeed many people who present with IBS also suffer from anxiety and depression. This has led many to speculate that IBS is primarily a psychological rather than physical disorder. However, the condition is complex and most likely results from an interplay between both psychological and biological factors.
How can hypnotherapy help alleviate irritable bowel syndrome?
Knowledge of the mind-body link is a few thousand years old now, so it is hardly new news that our mental state can affect our state of physical well-being, indeed many people who experience IBS also suffer with anxiety, depression or stress. Whether anxiety and depression result from having IBS or whether they contribute to the development and/ or maintenance of symptoms is unclear, but what is clear is that depression and anxiety frequently co-exist with IBS. In a recent study it was reported that 38% of IBS patients had clinically-confirmed depression (compared with 6% of healthy controls) and 32% had anxiety (compared with 13% of healthy controls) [Shah E, et al. Ann Gastroenterol 2014;27:224-30].
It is possible that past events, such as childhood illness, bereavement or other significant trauma, may unwittingly have sensitized an individual to stress and the symptoms of pain and discomfort. Where this is the case, hypnotherapy can help identify, reframe and release any underlying subconscious reasons for the symptoms. Our bodies have a wonderful capacity for ‘talking’ to us, to alert us to the fact that something needs attention, and far from it being a scary process, it is most usually a deeply restorative and healing experience.
Besides dealing with any root cause, hypnotherapy can also help by teaching the client relaxation and stress-management techniques, pain management and coping strategies, including self-hypnosis that the client can use whenever they need to.
It has been found that six sessions of treatment are effective for suffers of IBS, though a pre-treatment assessment is required to establish each client’s individual needs and treatment plan. Personalised recordings form an integral part of the treatment.