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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome can present itself in a variety of ways.

For anyone suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) it can be debilitating and distressing.  IBS can present itself in a variety of ways. Its onset is usually preceded  by abdominal pain signalling urgency to visit a toilet, bloating and sometimes back pain, belching and nausea.

IBS can range from a mildly uncomfortable inconvenience which occurs occasionally to a chronic condition which can interfere with enjoyment of every day life.

  • Abdominal distress or pain  
  • Urgency – the need to open your bowel at very short notice
  • Bloating
  • Back pain
  • Nausea, belching or even vomiting.

Although difficult to define, one in five people, twice as many of those being women to men, will develop IBS at some time during their lifetime.  

According to the NHS website:

“There’s a lot of evidence that psychological factors play an important role in IBS.   This doesn’t mean that IBS is “all in the mind” – the symptoms are very real.   But intense emotional states, such as stress and anxiety, can trigger  chemical changes that interfere with the normal workings of the digestive  System…..  It’s also been found that many people with IBS have experienced a traumatic event, usually during their childhood, such as abuse, neglect, a serious childhood illness or bereavement.

It is possible that difficult experiences in your past, such as these, make you more sensitive to stress and the symptoms of pain and discomfort.”

The cause of IBS is not completely clear. It has been linked to stress related chemicals in the body which are responsible for the fight or flight response.  Once these stress chemicals alert the body to an emergency the digestive system slows down and can even grind to a halt. Eating when the digestive system is in this condition can create the above symptoms.

IBS can be divided into mild, moderate and severe symptoms. Usually once you are experiencing moderate to severe symptoms you find that your life is being disrupted, causing challenging lifestyle behaviours.

The good news is – Hypnotherapy is recommended by NICE for IBS!

In 2008 NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) published guidelines for GPs for the diagnosis and management of IBS.  Once diagnosed, the guidelines recommend 12 months of traditional treatments ranging from dietary advice through to anti-diarrhoea or anti-constipation medications as appropriate, or even low dose antidepressants to reduce pain and spasms.  If the IBS has not responded to this treatment, it is classed as “intractable”.

In these cases, NICE recommends Hypnotherapy as an option to help the condition.  In fact there are a small number of Hypnotherapists specialising in IBS working within the NHS.

According to the NHS on-line portal, NHS Choices, which offers information about how to make choices about your health:

Hypnotherapy has been shown to help some people with IBS to reduce their symptoms of pain and discomfort . You can have Hypnotherapy as an outpatient in some NHS hospital pain clinics, or you can learn self-hypnosis techniques to do at home.

Dr Roland Valori, editor of Frontline Gastroenterology, said of the first 100 of his patients treated with Hypnotherapy, symptoms improved significantly for nine in ten.  He said that although previous research has shown Hypnotherapy is effective for IBS sufferers, it is not widely used.  IBS is more common in women than men and may be aggravated by stress and life changes.

Hypnotherapy can help to alleviate symptoms often by addressing the underlying anxiety.  

Research at the University Hospital of South Manchester under Professor Peter Whorwell, where the first trial of hypnotherapy for the condition was carried out, demonstrated the majority of sufferers can benefit.  The researchers stated we have found that IBS patients treated with hypnotherapy remain well in the long term, with dramatically reduced medication needs”.

Useful articles on IBS and hypnosis

Hypnotism: It’s all in the mind

“Hypnosis: Focusing subconscious on change”

“Does it work? Hypnotherapy for IBS”

“Hypnotherapy fixed my irritable bowel after six years of suffering”


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With thanks to Tanya Grypachevskaya for the photo from Unsplash

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