Hypnosis for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Hypnosis has been by approved by the American Medical Association as a valid medical treatment since 1958, though the concept of using a state of hypnosis to alleviate both physical and mental ills has recurred throughout the history of medicine from ancient times. By reaching the subconscious level of the mind, hypnotherapy can be used to alter the way a person consciously perceives health problems, and also promote new manners of response to them.

Hypnosis and gut-directed self-hypnosis programs have been repeatedly proven to be highly effective means of alleviating all symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (IBS, or "spastic colon"), including pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, nausea, and gas.[1]

Hypnosis is often thought to be therapy that only affects the mind, but as mind and body are inseparably joined (particularly with IBS, given the brain-gut dysfunction current research has pinpointed), hypnosis can also help physical ailments. In fact, researchers have called gut-directed IBS hypnosis a "cure" for the brain-gut dysfunction that underlies IBS.

During a state of hypnosis, consciousness is not lost, it becomes more selective, and typically a hypnosis patient becomes aware of internal processes rather than the outside world's distractions.

Most people report the actual experience of being hypnotized as pleasant, comfortable, and extremely relaxing. However, hypnotherapy is beneficial not only for the relaxation it induces, but for the state of suggestibility that characterizes it. In this state, the mind is open to receiving ideas and suggestions that promote positive thoughts and healing changes.[2] During normal waking hours, the window between the conscious and subconscious minds is closed, but any state of relaxation that results in alpha brain waves will open it. Typically, this happens during sleep, and dreams result. Hypnotherapy induces this same state of relaxation while the patient is awake, and allows helpful suggestions (such as those aimed at controlling health problems) to be directed into the subconscious mind.

Only ten percent or so of the population is not susceptible to hypnosis – the rest of us can turn to this therapy for relief of symptoms from disorders as wide ranging as: asthma, allergies, strokes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, high blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms, paralysis, and, with well-documented success rates, Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Hypnotherapy has in fact been proven successful at reducing or even eliminating all Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.[3] Over 15 years of solid scientific research has demonstrated hypnosis to be an effective, safe and inexpensive choice for IBS alleviation.[4] It has been so overwhelmingly successful in this regard that Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, chair of the National Women's Health Network in Washington, DC, has said that hypnosis should be the treatment of choice for Irritable Bowel Syndrome cases which have not responded to conventional therapy. Since the "conventional therapy" offered to most IBS patients ranges from nothing at all to a lifetime prescription for semi-effective anti-spasmodic drugs, I take this statement as the closest thing to a whole-hearted endorsement an alternative therapy can hope to get from a mainstream medical spokesperson.

For Irritable Bowel Syndrome, one of hypnotherapy's greatest benefits is its well-established ability to reduce the effects of stress. Your state of mind can have a direct impact on your physical well-being, even when you're in the best of health. If you're struggling with IBS, the tension, anxiety, and depression that comes from living with an incurable illness can actually undermine your immune system and further compromise your health.

Hypnosis can reduce this stress and its resultant negative impact by placing you in a deeply relaxed state, promoting positive thoughts and coping strategies, and clearing your mind of negative attitudes.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome in fact is almost uniquely suited to treatment by hypnosis or self-hypnosis, for several reasons. First, as just noted, stress-related attacks can be significantly reduced. Second, one of the most impressive aspects from hypnotherapy, and of tremendous benefit to IBS sufferers, is its well-documented ability to relieve virtually all types and degrees of pain.[5] Finally, because IBS is not a disease at all but a syndrome, if you can relieve and prevent the symptoms, you have effectively cured yourself of the disorder. The underlying dysfunction may still be present but if you suffer no noticeable effects from it, you will be living an IBS-free life. This outcome is a definite possibility from hypnotherapy treatments.

As with other alternative therapies, though there is solid evidence that hypnotherapy can provide lasting health benefits for many patients, there is uncertainty about precisely how and why the treatments work. Most scientists believe that hypnotherapy acts upon the unconscious, and affects the body's regulation of involuntary reactions that are normally beyond a person's control. Hypnosis puts these autonomic responses under the patient's power. Happily, treatment is suitable for people of all ages (children as well as adults - there is actually a gut-specific hypnotherapy program just for children with IBS), for males and females, and there are no risks or side effects.

How exactly do you start using hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome? You have two options. For many people, the most accessible means is through a home self-hypnosis program that is specifically gut-directed. Learn about self-hypnosis for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

If you don't want at-home treatment, you can find a specially trained IBS-focused hypnotherapist in your area and schedule in-person treatment sessions. Learn how to find a qualified hypnotherapist for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and what you can expect from personal sessions.

[1] For clinical studies documenting the success rates of hynosis and self-hypnosis for irritable bowel syndrome, check the IBS Research Library.

[2] It's important to note that only positive suggestions produce results, as it is well-established that a person in a state of hypnosis cannot be made to do anything against their will, conscience, or moral values. Even while hypnotized the patient (not the therapist) remains in full control.

[3] In one recent study, Dr. Olafur S. Palsson and colleagues at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia provided 24 IBS patients, 15 women and 9 men, with seven sessions of hypnosis treatment. In addition, the patients used hypnosis audiotapes at home. At the end of the 14-week study period, 21 of the 24 patients "rated themselves improved in all central IBS symptoms after treatment," the researchers report. Significant improvement was found in abdominal pain, bloating, stool consistency and bowel movement frequency. Palsson's group also measured the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the digestive system and other involuntary body activities. After the course of hypnotherapy, the autonomic nervous system was less easily stimulated. The researchers propose that this calming effect "may plausibly contribute to the symptom improvement". (Palsson O, Turner M, Johnson D. Hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome: symptom improvement and autonomic nervous system effects. Program and abstracts of Digestive Disease Week 2000; May 21-24, 2000; San Diego, California. Abstract 997).

[4] One of the earliest studies of hypnotherapy in IBS patients tracked 50 patients, all of whom had been diagnosed with severe intractable irritable bowel syndrome, for a mean duration of 18 months. Of these patients, divided into 3 categories of classical cases, atypical cases and cases exhibiting significant psychopathology, the response rates were 95%, 43%, and 60% respectively. Patients over the age of 50 years responded very poorly (25%) whereas those below the age of 50 with classical irritable bowel syndrome exhibited a 100% response rate. This study confirmed the successful effect of hypnotherapy. (Gut 1987 Apr;28(4):423-5. Hypnotherapy in severe irritable bowel syndrome: further experience. Whorwell PJ, Prior A, Colgan SM)

[5] Despite the fact that the neural mechanisms underlying the modulation of pain perception by hypnosis remain obscure, its effects are definitely real. One recent study, using positron emission tomography to identify the brain areas in which hypnosis modulates cerebral responses to a noxious stimulus found that noxious stimulation caused an increase in regional cerebral blood flow in the thalamic nuclei and anterior cingulate and insular cortices. The hypnotic state induced a significant activation of a right-sided extrastriate area and the anterior cingulate cortex. The interaction analysis showed that the activity in the anterior (mid-)cingulate cortex was related to pain perception and unpleasantness differently in the hypnotic state than in control situations. The result? Hypnosis decreased both pain sensation and the unpleasantness of noxious stimuli. Conclusions? Both intensity and unpleasantness of the noxious stimuli are reduced during the hypnotic state. In addition, hypnotic modulation of pain is mediated by the anterior cingulate cortex. (Neural mechanisms of antinociceptive effects of hypnosis. Faymonville ME, Laureys S, Degueldre C, DelFiore G, Luxen A, Franck G, Lamy M, Maquet P. Departments of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine and Neurology, and the Cyclotron Research Centre, University Hospital of Liege, Liege, Belgium. Anesthesiology 2000 May;92(5):1257-67).

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