Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

As with any other medical contition, it is important that you visit your GP before considering alternative therapies in order to rule out other possible reasons for your symptoms.

What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is a very common condition. It describes a wide range of symptoms that vary from one person to another and can be worse for some people than others. The cause of IBS is unknown, and likely there are many causes; as a result, there is no one treatment for everyone. Doctors call it a functional disorder because the symptoms result from an oversensitivity of the muscles and nerves of the intestine affecting the way in which they function. There is no sign of disease when the colon is examined and, much like a headache or muscle strain, IBS can cause a great deal of discomfort and distress, even though no structural abnormalities are identified.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

The most common symptoms are:

  • wind and/or bloating
  • diarrhoea, constipation, or both
  • low abdominal pain, which may ease after opening the bowels or be accompanied by a change in bowel habit or stool appearance
  • passing mucus
  • feeling the need to open the bowels even after having just been to the toilet
  • a feeling of urgency
  • feeling that your symptoms are worse after eating

How is IBS treated?

There is currently no known cure for IBS, but managing diet and emotional stress can help to alleviate symptoms. Your GP or nutritionist should be able to offer advice on diet. Some alternative therapies, such as hypnotherapy, can also help.

How can hypnotherapy help?

Modern science and medicine have a good knowledge of the negative effects of prolonged stress on the human body. These responses are part of what is commonly referred to as a person’s ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’ mechanism, and can form a response to physical or psychological threat, whether real or perceived. As part of this, blood is diverted from the digestive system to the vital organs and muscles - this is why we can feel a churning stomach when we are nervous or stressed. Increased levels of stress chemicals in the body can make IBS worse.

The opposite is also true: when a person relaxes, we activate what has been termed the 'Rest and Digest' response. This is characterised by reduced heart rate and blood pressure: healing and regeneration occur. The body performs activities like digesting, detoxifying, eliminating, and building immunity.

Your hypnotherapist can assist in identifying those patterns of thought or behaviour that are preventing the Rest and Digest response from working effectively. This might include high levels of stress and anxiety or poor food choices. During hypnosis, your body and mind enter a deep state of relaxation which will enhance the Rest and Digest response.

Research into hypnosis as a treatment for IBS, pioneered by Professor Peter Whorwell during the 1980s, suggested that gut-directed hypnosis led to an improvement in the condition, with many people still showing improvements after five years. Hypnotherapy for IBS remains one of the treatments suggested by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.