By Linda G. Ritchie, Ph.D.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common functional disorders of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. IBS consists of abnormal changes in the way the gut normally functions without any detectable structural changes. IBS is not a disease but rather a group of symptoms that occur together. The most common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, cramping, and diarrhea and or constipation. People often have symptoms after eating a meal. IBS is diagnosed by medical doctors based on the symptoms described by the patient.
Twenty percent of adults in the U.S. have symptoms compatible with IBS.
Patients with IBS account for 12% of primary care visits and 33% of visits to gastroenterologists.
IBS is the 2nd most common cause of work-related absenteeism due to illness.
Many patients with IBS also suffer from fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety.
Females represent over 70% of IBS sufferers.
Some of the possible problems which may be misdiagnosed as IBS are Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and lactose intolerance. For this reason, it is important to have a medical doctor thoroughly assess the problem.
If you have been diagnosed with IBS, the goal of treatment is to relieve the symptoms. Your doctor may give you medicine to help with the symptoms. Learning to reduce stress can help. While stress does not cause IBS, it can make your symptoms worse. Additionally, simply having IBS symptoms can easily produce feelings of hopelessness and distress. It is for this reason that so many IBS sufferers also experience depression and anxiety.
Lifestyle changes can help in some cases of IBS. For example, regular exercise and improved sleep habits may reduce anxiety and help relieve bowel symptoms. Dietary changes can also be helpful. However, because the condition differs from one person to another, no specific diet can be recommended for IBS.
Two other treatments that have a significant body of research indicating they are effective in treating IBS symptoms are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and clinical hypnosis. CBT focuses on your thoughts and actions. CBT consists of a wide range of strategies and procedures designed to help patients change their perceptions of their situation and therefore increase their ability to control their condition. CBT is effective for helping patients manage pain, anxiety, anger, and shame; enhance their self-efficacy and develop stress management skills.
Clinical hypnosis has also shown an extremely high success rate in numerous research studies. Studies commonly show an amazing 80% or more of the patients treated with hypnosis improving and the improvement commonly lasts for many years. If you have been diagnosed with IBS and have not responded as well as you would like to your doctor’s prescribed medical treatment, obtaining treatment from a therapist qualified in CBT and or clinical hypnosis may provide you with additional relief from your symptoms.