Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the digestive system and gut that causes the bowel to be very sensitive. The condition causes recurring pain and discomfort in the abdomen and often, the nerves and muscles don't work as they should.

While there is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome, there are certain treatments and lifestyle changes that can help manage symptoms. One IBS treatment recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is hypnotherapy.

On this page, we will explore the benefits of hypnotherapy for IBS and what to expect from a session.

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According to some research, IBS is one of the most common disorders of the digestive system; it’s thought to affect one in five people during their lifetime. Studies have found that women are more likely than men to suffer from IBS and their symptoms may be more severe.

Many people living with irritable bowel syndrome find their symptoms to be an occasional nuisance, for other people however, the condition can seriously affect their quality of life. While IBS can develop at any time, it often occurs when a person is in their twenties.

Some individuals with irritable bowel syndrome experience constipation, others have diarrhoea, while some may suffer from both. The pain can range from mild to severe and may happen at a particular time of the day.

Symptoms of IBS

Symptoms can vary from person to person and can be experienced at differing severities. In some people, the symptoms seem to be triggered by something they have had to eat or drink, stressful periods, or food poisoning.

Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • pain and discomfort in the abdomen
  • bloated abdomen
  • gas
  • indigestion
  • feeling full
  • nausea
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • cramping
  • heartburn
  • muscle pains

Causes of IBS

While the exact cause of IBS is unclear, some research suggests it may be due to over-activity of the gut. For example, if the contractions of the muscles in the gut wall become abnormal or overactive. Problems such as increased sensitivity to the amount of gas in the bowel and increased serotonin levels (which occur after eating at certain times of the day or certain foods) are also thought to play a role in the development of IBS.

There is also some evidence to suggest that a person’s emotional state can trigger problems in the gut. Intense feelings of anxiety and stress may cause the individual to suffer irregular bowel habits and symptoms can worsen. These feelings may in time interfere with the regularity of the digestive system, even in those who have not previously experienced IBS.

The link between the brain and your gut is an interesting one and effectively by undertaking hypnosis to help your IBS, you are learning to use your mind to help control your gut.

 - Read more of 'IBS and hypnotherapy'.

IBS treatment

As IBS is a medical condition, it is important to consult your doctor first for information, advice and diagnosis. Unlike some medical conditions that have specific tests in order to confirm a diagnosis, this isn’t the case with IBS. The condition doesn’t cause any easily detectable abnormalities in your digestive system; everyone is affected by the condition differently.

The most important thing you can do is to share with your doctor a clear description of the symptoms you have experienced. In most cases, your GP will consider assessing you for IBS if you have been experiencing any of the typical symptoms of IBS for at least six months.

Although there is no cure for IBS, there are things that can help manage the symptoms. Hypnotherapy, relaxation training, a controlled diet, medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) have all been found to help ease symptoms of IBS.

NICE guidelines

One IBS treatment recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is hypnotherapy.

NICE recommend that people living with IBS who do not respond to pharmacological treatments after 12 months consider a referral for psychological interventions, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), hypnotherapy and/or psychological therapy.

View the full NICE guidelines on IBS.

Hypnotherapy for IBS

Hypnotherapy for IBS can help an individual learn relaxation techniques, as well as learning new ways to manage stress. Our state of mind can have an impact on our physical well-being. Therefore the tension, stress and anxiety often caused by IBS may undermine the immune system and further compromise health.

Learning how to relax and manage stressful feelings can become useful life tools. Hypnosis can help to promote positive thinking and develop coping strategies. The hypnotherapist helps you recognise the problem and access your unconscious mind.

A number of clinical studies have found hypnotherapy for IBS to be an effective treatment, including a recent study published in The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology journal.

Results showed that immediately after treatment, participants in the two hypnotherapy groups reported satisfactory relief at substantially higher rates than those who received educational supportive care, and these benefits persisted for nine months after the treatment ended.

- Read more on Happiful

While each hypnotherapist will have a different approach, generally, IBS treatment will include:

  • Recognising and learning to cope with any worries or fears contributing to IBS, increasing your confidence and well-being.
  • Learning self-hypnosis techniques so you can continue the sessions at home.
  • Setting goals. You may be encouraged to visualise the future and how you would feel without IBS, these may be long-term goals or a number of things you want to achieve.
  • Visualisations and suggestions with the aim of decreasing the sensitivity of the gut and to increase confidence.
  • It is common for hypnotherapists to offer you a CD to listen to between sessions. This will help you stay motivated and keep your progress comfortable. Your hypnotherapist will record your progress and monitor your results each session in order to make further recommendations.

It has been found that six hours of treatment over one-hour sessions, or 12 half-hour sessions are effective. However, some people have seen results after just one or two sessions of hypnotherapy for IBS. Every person is different. Your progress will depend on you and the plan you have devised with the hypnotherapist.

Use our advanced search tool to find a hypnotherapist in your area. 

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