Irritable bowels: the way to your gut is through your mind
In a study, training IBS sufferers to change their way of thinking led to a dramatic improvement in the condition
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is partly psychological and can be controlled better through mental training than with mainstream drugs, a new trial shows.
The hope of better treatment is at hand for thousands of sufferers after the research found that even telephone and web-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) had a major impact on symptoms.
The common gut condition affects up to 20% of people and triggers abdominal pain, bloating and distressing altered bowel habits.
The causes of the disorder are unknown.
Standard treatments include antispasmodic drugs, laxatives and medicines that relieve diarrhoea.
The new trial, conducted by Southampton and King’s College London universities, suggest the condition is significantly psychological in origin.
Doctors studied 558 serious IBS sufferers who were either put on a programme of CBT or received standard care.
The findings, reported in the journal Gut, showed patients in the CBT group were more likely to have experienced significant improvement in their symptoms after a year.
The impact of IBS on their work and daily life was also significantly less than it was for those not receiving the psychological therapy.
CBT is a talking treatment that aims to help people overcome harmful behaviour and ways of thinking.
For the study, sessions were conducted over the phone or online rather than in person.
Lead researcher Dr Hazel Everitt, from the University of Southampton, said: “The fact that both telephone and web-based CBT sessions were shown to be effective treatments is a really important and exciting discovery.
“Patients are able to undertake these treatments at a time convenient to them, without having to travel to clinics.”
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) guidance recommends CBT for patients whose IBS symptoms have persisted for 12 months despite medications and lifestyle advice.
The researchers said the priority now is to make CBT more available to people with IBS, said the researchers.
One patient who took part in the study, Laura Day, said: “There’s no other way of putting it, this trial has changed my life.
“I’d had symptoms for as long as I can remember, but was diagnosed officially around the age of 13.
“Now at 31 years old, I barely think about it because I’m symptom-free 98% of the time.”
She added: “I’ve spent my whole life avoiding certain foods, restaurants and situations thinking I was controlling my IBS when I was actually adding fuel to the flame.
“The CBT techniques I learned and the information I was given on this trial gave me real control in a healthy, manageable way.”
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)