30 patients with severe refractory irritable-bowel syndrome were randomly allocated to treatment with either hypnotherapy or psychotherapy and placebo. The psychotherapy patients showed a small but significant improvement in abdominal pain, abdominal distension, and general well-being but not in bowel habit. The hypnotherapy patients showed a dramatic improvement in all features, the difference between the two groups being highly significant. In the hypnotherapy group no relapses were recorded during the 3-month follow-up period, and no substitution symptoms were observed.
The irritable bowel syndrome is discussed together with some of its theories, methods of investigation and various treatment regimens. Eight case histories are reported. In each patient, symptoms appeared to be precipitated by situations interpreted by that patient as stressful. A programme of prospective desensitization using hypnosis is described. Where symptoms of depression were additionally present, antidepressant medication was prescribed. This was subsequently phased out as and when indicated.
33 patients with refractory irritable bowel syndrome were treated with four 40-minute sessions of hypnotherapy over 7 weeks. 20 improved, 11 of whom lost almost all their symptoms. Short-term improvement was maintained for 3 months without further formal treatment. Hypnotherapy in groups of up to 8 patients was as effective as individual therapy.
Fifteen patients with the irritable bowel syndrome were studied to assess the effect of hypnotherapy on anorectal physiology. In comparison with a control group of 15 patients who received no hypnotherapy significant changes in rectal sensitivity were found in patients with diarrhoea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome both after a course of hypnotherapy and during a session of hypnosis (p less than 0.05). Although patient numbers were small, a trend towards normalisation of rectal sensitivity was also observed in patients with constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome.
Recent controlled studies in the field of gastroenterology have shown that hypnotherapy is unequivocally beneficial in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and peptic ulceration. There is also some evidence for influence on certain physiological functions. Further research should help to define more clearly the role of this controversial form of therapy.
Among medical clinic patients consulting for IBS, symptoms of psychologic distress are common, and more than half of these patients are found to have a psychiatric diagnosis in addition to bowel dysfunction. Many investigators have therefore concluded that IBS is a psychophysiologic disorder and proposed that patients with IBS be treated with psychologic techniques. However, recent studies suggest that this association may be spurious; persons in the community who have symptoms of IBS but do not consult a doctor have no more psychologic symptoms than persons without bowel symptoms.
Individualization of treatment for patients with IBS is predicated on a thorough analysis of the patient's symptoms, consideration of the reasons for seeking health care, evaluation of symptom-precipitating factors, elimination of confounding features, and the absolute knowledge of the absence of organic illness. Collecting and codifying appropriate historical data allow the physician to educate the patient with respect to the origin of his symptoms, and to enlist the patient as a partner in his future health care.
The major aims of medical therapy in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are: a) to ameliorate symptoms (pain, bowel movement abnormalities, bloating) and b) to improve psychological problems of the patients. The first step of IBS therapy is the diet. In fact some forms of IBS can be ascribed to food intolerance. When abdominal pain, meteorism and constipation are the main symptoms, treatment with high-fiber diet, antispastic and antimuscarinic drugs is indicated. Sometimes amitriptyline, an antidepressant which also shows anticholinergic and analgesic properties, can be helpful.