Irritable bowel syndrome

Written by Bonnie Gifford
Bonnie Gifford
Hypnotherapy Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Amy Odd
Last updated 18th April 2024 | Next update due 18th April 2027

Hypnotherapy can help you to understand the link between your mind and gut, and ease the stress and anxiety caused by IBS, to provide relief from your symptoms.

What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

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.

According to some research, IBS is one of the most common disorders of the digestive system. Worldwide, it's estimated around 10% of the population has IBS, and 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. While most people with IBS are under the age of 50, older adults also experience it.

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.

Some individuals with irritable bowel syndrome experience constipation, others have diarrhoea, and some may suffer from both. The pain can range from mild to severe and may happen at a particular time of the day. The exact cause of IBS is not currently known. While the condition can change over time and be managed successfully with the right strategies, it's often a lifelong condition.

Guided hypnosis for relaxation and healing

Hypnotherapist Helen Brooks (AKA The Tummy Whisperer) guides us through this free hypnosis session for relaxation and healing.

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 of IBS include:

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

Can hypnotherapy help with bloating?

Bloating can be a common symptom of IBS. Hypnotherapy for IBS can help improve a wide variety of symptoms, including bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and overall well-being. 

What causes 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.

How do you treat IBS?

As IBS is a medical condition, it's important to consult your doctor first for information, advice and diagnosis. Unlike some medical conditions that have specific tests 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.

There is no cure for IBS, meaning it's often considered to be a lifelong condition. However, 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 recommends 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 you to learn relaxation techniques, as well as learn 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.

Hypnotherapists who can help with IBS

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 about the study that revealed hypnotherapy could help relieve IBS symptoms

While each hypnotherapist will differ in approach, typically, IBS treatment includes:

  • 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 increasing confidence.
  • It's 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.

Studies have shown that hypnotherapy can help reduce symptoms of IBS. Find out more

Gut-directed hypnotherapy

Gut-directed (GDH) or 'gut-guided' hypnotherapy can help to address any 'miscommunication' between the brain and the gut. Whereas most traditional forms of IBS therapies focus more on treating symptoms and promoting relaxation, gut-directed hypnosis focuses more on the mind.

This form of treatment guides you into a focused state of awareness and uses suggestion and imagery to calm the digestive tract and prevent unnecessary focus on discomfort in the body. This approach is thought to be most effective when used in conjunction with other medical treatments and ongoing self-care practices.

Does gut-directed hypnotherapy work? 

Studies have shown significant improvement with the help of gut-directed hypnotherapy. According to one study, GDH is effective in more than 80% of patients, while another found that 81% of those who successfully used hypnotherapy for IBS continued to see improvements after five years.

How long does it take for gut-directed hypnotherapy to work?

Around 70% of those who try gut-directed hypnotherapy see a reduction in symptoms within six weeks. 

Ready to start working with a hypnotherapist to help reduce discomfort and symptoms caused by IBS? Use our advanced search to find a hypnotherapist online, by telephone, or in person near you. 

Meet our expert panel Our content is reviewed by professionals Find out more
Neville Mundy Amy Odd Neil Brown Damien Scott Faye Hatch Natalie Swanson
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