Up to eight million people in Britain suffer from IBS, with symptoms including diarrhoea, pain and bloating. The condition can seriously affect sufferers' quality of life and finding treatment can be difficult, leading many doctors to feel they can do little to help.
Research by Peter Whorwell, Professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology in the University's Medical School and Director of the South Manchester Functional Bowel Service, has been researching the use of gut-directed hypnosis for over 20 years. Most recently, two hundred and fifty patients who have suffered from IBS for over two years were given twelve one-hour sessions, during which they were given an explanation of how the gut works and what causes their symptoms.
"IBS is ideal for treatment with hypnosis, as there is no structural damage to the body," explained Professor Whorwell. "During the hypnotherapy, sufferers learn how to influence and gain control of their gut function, and then seem to be able to change the way the brain modulates their gut activity."
With a success-rate of about 70% Professor Whorwell believes that, although labour-intensive, hypnotherapy could be an extremely effective treatment for the condition; and a less expensive alternative to new, costly drugs coming onto the market.
"We've found it to help all the symptoms, whereas some of the drugs available reduce only a few," he said. "As IBS can be a life-long condition it could clearly be a very valuable option for patients; however it is not suitable for everyone and women tend to respond better than men."
Professor Whorwell has founded a dedicated unit at Wythenshawe Hospital which treats patients from all over the UK, as the treatment can only be carried out by a practitioner trained in gut-directed hypnotherapy and is not yet widely available on the NHS.
Contact: Jo Nightingale
University of Manchester