Could Therapy Be Key To Treating Your IBS? Researchers Think So

Stress, diet and sleep could all be exacerbating your symptoms.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) delivered over the phone or online has been found to be more effective in relieving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) than current standard care, according to new research.

It’s hoped the results could make a big difference to patients with IBS who currently have very limited access to CBT, with some waiting months for treatment, in an increasingly strained NHS.

Stress can be a trigger for IBS, which is why therapies could prove so useful in treating the illness. A key part of treating it is helping people to identify such triggers and then providing advice on lifestyle changes to make to avoid them.

“For some, psychological stressors are the most common cause, while for others dietary triggers are more common,” Dr Simon Smale, gastroenterologist and medical adviser to The IBS Network, told HuffPost UK.

“For many people, it is a combination of these and other lifestyle factors, such as sleep (or lack of it) and exercise which exacerbate symptoms.”

HuffPost UK

In the largest study of its kind, researchers at King’s College London and the University of Southampton carried out a trial involving 558 patients who had ongoing significant IBS symptoms despite having tried other IBS treatments for at least a year.

The findings, published in the journal GUT, show that those who received either form of CBT (via telephone or interactive website) were more likely to report significant improvement in severity of symptoms and impact on their work and life after 12 months of treatment compared to those who only received current standard IBS treatments.

Dr Hazel Everitt, lead researcher and Associate Professor in General Practice at the University of Southampton, said it was previously known that face-to-face CBT sessions could be helpful for treating IBS, however in her experience of a GP she also knew that “availability is extremely limited”.

She continued: “The fact that both telephone and web-based CBT sessions were shown to be effective treatments is a really important and exciting discovery. Patients are able to undertake these treatments at a time convenient to them, without having to travel to clinics.”

The hope is that these tailored CBT treatments can be made more widely available for the public. Researchers are working with NHS therapists to make this happen.

However there are concerns about the growing trend towards digital treatment. Alison Reid, chief executive officer of the IBS Network, said: “Many of the charity’s network members who are not digital natives feel marginalised by an increasing number of services going online.”

A lot of people she speaks to through the charity have had to wait several months to see a specialist dietician or begin talking therapy, “if they are put on a waiting list at all”.

She condemned current health provision for people with IBS, saying: “It is wholly failing those living with IBS who, after an diagnosis of IBS, often feel cut adrift and left to find out their triggers and manage their symptoms alone.”