Psychotherapy Benefits for IBS

Psychotherapy may lessen irritable bowel syndrome symptoms in long term

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) Got irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? You may want to consider treating your mind as well as your body.

A new study from Vanderbilt University found that psychotherapies, including cognitive therapies, relaxation therapy and hypnotherapy, may reduce the symptoms of IBS in the long term.

Past studies have found that psychotherapy can have this effect in the short term.

"Our study is the first one that has looked at long-term effects," said senior study author Lynn S. Walker, PhD, a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt, in a press release. "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."

IBS is a chronic intestinal disorder that causes pain in the belly, gas, diarrhea, bloating and constipation. Because it's not clear what causes IBS, treatment typically focuses on symptom relief. Treatments include dietary adjustments, medication and psychological interventions.

Lead study author Kelsey Laird, a doctoral student in psychology at Vanderbilt, explained that IBS is a disorder of the "brain-gut axis."

"Western medicine often conceptualizes the mind as separate from the body, but IBS is a perfect example of how the two are connected," Laird said in a press release. "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."

For this study, Dr. Walker and team looked at the results of 41 clinical trials on more than 2,200 IBS patients.

They found that the beneficial effects of psychotherapy on IBS symptoms lasted at least six to 12 months after therapy concluded on average. No significant differences between psychotherapy types or treatment length were found.

This study was published Dec. 28 in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
December 30, 2015
Last Updated:
December 30, 2015