It is well-established that psychological therapies can temporarily help alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a fairly common gastrointestinal disorder. Now a new meta-analysis shows that these beneficial effects may last at least six to 12 months after the therapy has ended.
The researchers analyzed the results of 41 clinical trials containing more than 2,200 patients from several different countries. Their findings are published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
“Our study is the first one that has looked at long-term effects,” said senior author Dr. Lynn S. Walker, professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“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, which is characterized by chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation, is classified as a disorder of the “brain-gut axis.” Although there is no cure, physicians often help patients relieve IBS symptoms through medication, diet, 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,” said first author Kelsey Laird, a doctoral student in Vanderbilt’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 several different types of psychological therapies, including cognitive therapies, relaxation, and hypnosis. Her analysis found no significant difference in the effectiveness among the different types of psychotherapy. She also discovered that the length of the treatment (the number of sessions) didn’t seem to matter.
Perhaps the most significant from a health care cost perspective was the finding that treatments conducted online appear to be equally as effective as those conducted in person. Currently, IBS is estimated to cost the nation somewhere between $950 million to $1.35 billion annually.
“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 said.
Source: Vanderbilt University