Can Psychotherapy Help People With Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

When we think of psychotherapy, we generally don’t associate it as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome because psychotherapists like Stuart MacFarlane generally treat patients who suffer from depression, bereavement, anxiety and other psychological dilemmas. However, a new study from in the journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology may open the door to another treatment from psychotherapists and it has to do with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Read on to learn more about the study and how it relates to psychotherapy!

What Is IBS?

Before we get into the details of the study, we must first understand what IBS is and how many people it affects. According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, roughly 25 to 45 million people in the United States suffer from IBS, which makes up about 10% to 15% of the population. IBS is a condition that can affect all genders and people of all ages, including children, where it commonly causes abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, cramping and constipation. While the symptoms are uncomfortable, it is different from colitis and Crohn’s disease, as IBS does not produce changes in the bowel tissue or increase the risk of colorectal cancer according to the Mayo Clinic.

Doctors and researchers are unsure of what causes IBS and unfortunately, there is not a cure for the condition. However, two common forms of treatment are available to help manage the symptoms, which include dietary changes and some medications.

The Study

Like mentioned above, the two common treatments of IBS include medication and dietary changes, however, in the study “Short- and Long- Term Efficacy of Psychological Therapies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” researchers have found that psychotherapy is effective in easing the symptoms. On top of that, the beneficial effects may last at least six months to a year after therapy.

The researchers analyzed results of 41 clinical trials that contained 2,290 patients from several countries. 1,183 people were assigned psychotherapy, while the remaining 1,107 were in the control group. 75% of those in the treatment group had greater symptom relief than the average member in the control group. The treatment approaches varied whereas some in the treatment group underwent cognitive therapy, dynamic psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, mindfulness and hypnotherapy.

The researchers noted that “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.” In laymen’s terms, psychotherapy was helping patients cope with stress and anxiety, which both contribute to the severity of the symptoms.

With this study, those who suffer from IBS may now have another alternative when it comes to treating their symptoms.


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