Doctors have long known that psychological therapies such as relaxation and hypnosis can temporarily ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But, new research suggests they could also offer long-term benefits.
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder that affects up to 16 percent of the U.S. population. It causes chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. There’s currently no cure, but dietary changes, medication and psychological interventions can provide symptom relief, the study authors noted.
“Our study is the first one that has looked at long-term effects,” said the study’s senior author, Lynn Walker, a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Nashville.
“We found that the moderate benefit that psychological therapies confer in the short term continue over the long term. This is significant because IBS is a chronic, intermittent condition for which there is no good medical treatment,” she said in a hospital news release.
The researchers analyzed results of 41 clinical trials involving more than 2,200 IBS patients.
The analysis found several different psychological therapies — including relaxation, hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy — equally beneficial in helping people change the way they think. Regardless of the length of treatment, the researchers found the effects may last at least six to 12 months after treatment ends.
Online treatments were just as effective as those conducted in person, the study, published recently in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, found.
The study’s first author, Kelsey Laird, a doctoral student in Vanderbilt’s clinical psychology program, said, “Western medicine often conceptualizes the mind as separate from the body, but IBS is a perfect example of how the two are connected.
“Gastrointestinal symptoms can increase stress and anxiety, which can increase the severity of the symptoms. This is a vicious cycle that psychological treatment can help break,” she said in the news release.
The researchers next plan to examine the effects of psychological therapies on patients’ ability to function at work, school and during other routine activities.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provides more information on IBS.