IBS, otherwise known as irritable bowel syndrome, can cause serious problems for sufferers who want to get on with their daily life. It can give bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation or flatulence. Around 15 per cent of the UK population is affected, although only half tend to seek medical help.
As we accept more and more, the mind and body are intricately connected – and the gut even more so, as there are more nerve cells in our intestines than in our nervous system. IBS sufferers can testify that emotional upsets aggravate the condition and so learning to minimise stress can help them; emotional retraining can help to control it. Early studies from a small number of specialists have indicated that the mind-body approach is more effective than each singularly.
Psychotherapy and hypnotherapy have both been shown to contribute to controlling the condition and relieving the symptoms. In hypnotherapy, patients usually visualise their colon functioning properly. In cognitive behavioural therapy, or short term psychotherapy, patients can change their symptom-provoking thoughts, such as thinking that a certain situation will cause their symptoms to reappear or thinking that their colon will always cause them problems.
In a UK study of 204 patients, where over two thirds of patients were helped with hypnosis, 81 per cent maintained their improvements for up to six years afterwards. Stress reduction or relaxation techniques have proved just as helpful as avoiding certain foods.