Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a distressing condition of the gut characterised by a number of symptoms, commonly abdominal pain, bloating and altered bowel habit (diarrhoea, constipation or in combination) and also nausea, headaches, tiredness and ‘wind’.The specific cause is unknown but IBS is often associated with an infection, food poisoning, abdominal surgery or stress. Individuals may have certain ‘triggers’ for the illness such as anxiety, certain foods and stimulants such as alcohol or caffeine. The symptoms may be mild such as a feeling of bloating or can be quite severe, with considerable pain and even incontinence.
We have probably all felt the effect of anxiety on the gut – ‘butterflies’ in the tummy or feeling ‘sick with nerves’. This is due to the primitive response of the brain to perceived danger. If we are anxious, the primitive brain produces chemicals which set off the survival instinct of fight or flight because the perception is that we are in danger. This survival response causes the gut to be stimulated and it can become overactive, causing spasm.
IBS can be further exacerbated by anxiety as the symptoms themselves become a cause for anxiety. The sufferer may find themselves worrying about the possibility of needing the toilet urgently in a public place or dreading eating out if they have dietary restrictions. The patient may cease to want
to leave home to socialise or to go to work, leading to further anxiety and sometimes depression.
The medical treatment of IBS helps to manage the symptoms – for example antispasmodics to calm the muscles; laxatives or anti-diarrhoeal medications to modulate bowel transit and analgesics for pain. Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, getting adequate sleep and dietary changes can also help.
Professor Peter Whorwell of Wythenshawe Hospital has been researching the use of hypnotherapy for the treatment of IBS for many years and created the Manchester Model of Gut Directed Hypnotherapy. His research showed that hypnotherapy had a clinically significant effect in reducing
symptoms of IBS and increasing quality of life in 70-80% of patients. Hypnotherapy induces a deeply relaxed state which quietens the activity of the gut, thus reducing painful symptoms.
Jane Fox remembers her experiences of working as a Research Associate with Professor Whorwell in the 1980s. Now herself a Clinical Hypnotherapist, Jane has had success in treating clients suffering from IBS with Solution Focused Hypnotherapy. One client recently commented that the therapy
“gave me my life back” after years of suffering from symptoms which had significantly affected her life.
The charity IBS Network is a great resource for up to date information on the management and treatment of IBS. There is an IBS Network support group on the last Thursday of the month at Feed Café, 393 Manchester Rd, Stockport, SK4 5BY. For further information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have IBS you should consult your GP. If you would like to consider hypnotherapy, please contact Jane Fox.