Updated 10 August 2017

Psychological therapy can improve IBS symptoms

Dietary changes, medication and psychological interventions can provide symptom relief for irritable bowel syndrome.

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.

Currently no cure

It causes chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation.

There's currently no cure, but dietary changes, medication and psychological interventions can provide symptom relief, the study authors noted.

Read: What is IBS?

"Our study is the first one that has looked at long-term effects," said the study's senior author, Lynn Walker, a professor of paediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre 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.

Read: New IBS guidelines

The researchers analysed results of 41 clinical trials involving more than 2,200 IBS patients.

The analysis found several different psychological therapies including relaxation, hypnosis and cognitive behavioural therapy equally beneficial in helping people change the way they think.

Vicious cycle

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.

Read: IBS runs in the family

The study's first author, Kelsey Laird, a doctoral student in Vanderbilt's clinical psychology programme, said, "Western medicine often conceptualises 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. 

Read more:

5 stomach-soothing herbs and spices 

8 foods to avoid if you have IBS 

Preventing IBS