Doctors have known for some time that psychological therapies can reduce the symptoms of irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) in the short term. Now, a meta-analysis finds that the effects appear to last 6 to 12 months after the therapy ends.
The study looks at the results of 41 clinical trials from a number of different countries containing more than 2,200 patients. Says senior author Lynn S. Walker, professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center:
“Our study is the first one that has looked at long-term effects. We found that the moderate benefit that psychological therapies confer in the short term continue over the long term. This is significant because IBS is a chronic, intermittent condition for which there is no good medical treatment.”
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder that affects 7 to 16 percent of the US population, adding somewhere between $950 million to $1.35 billion annually to the nation’s healthcare bill.
Brain-gut Axis Disorder
Characterized by chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, IBS is classified as a disorder of the “brain-gut axis.” Although there is no known cure, there are treatments to relieve symptoms including dietary adjustments, medication, and psychological interventions.
“Western medicine often conceptualizes the mind as separate from the body, but IBS is a perfect example of how the two are connected,”
says first author Kelsey Laird, a doctoral student in Vanderbilt University’s clinical psychology program.
“Gastrointestinal symptoms can increase stress and anxiety, which can increase the severity of the symptoms. This is a vicious cycle that psychological treatment can help break.”
The studies that Laird analyzed included a number of different types of psychological therapies, including cognitive therapies, relaxation, and hypnosis.
Her analysis found no significant difference in the effectiveness of different types of psychotherapy. It also found that the length of the treatment (the number of sessions) didn’t matter.
Possibly most significant from a healthcare cost perspective was the finding that treatments conducted online appear to be equally as effective as those conducted in person.
“In this study we looked at the effect of psychological therapies on gastrointestinal symptoms. In a follow-up study I am investigating the effect that they have on patients’ ability to function: go to work, go to school, participate in social activities, and so on,” Laird says.