Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) occurs when muscles in your large intestine contract faster or slower than normal. This causes pain, cramping, gassiness, sudden bouts of diarrhea, and constipation.

People may have alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea, or diarrhea-predominant IBS or constipation-predominant IBS. Although the symptoms can be hard to live with, IBS doesn’t cause permanent damage to your intestine.

Between 10 - 20% of the population has IBS at some time. IBS also makes up 20 - 50% of visits to gastroenterologists, or doctors dealing with digestive system problems. IBS often starts in teens or young adults, but it can occur at any age and is often associated with stress. It affects almost twice as many women as men. More than 80% of IBS patients in the United States are women, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of IBS may include:

  • Cramping pain in your lower abdomen
  • Bloating and gas
  • Diarrhea or constipation, or bouts of both
  • Immediate need to move your bowels when you wake up or during or after meals
  • Relief of pain after bowel movements
  • Feeling of incomplete emptying after bowel movements

Mucus in your stool Up to 60% of people with IBS have psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, which can be helped by hypnotherapy.

What Causes It?

Researchers don't know what causes IBS, and the intestines of people with IBS appear normal when examined. It may be caused by a disturbance in the muscle movement of the intestine or a lower tolerance for stretching and movement of the intestine.


(a) Drug Therapies The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms, which is mainly drug therapies. But hypnotherapy as an alternative therapy can be helpful too.

(b) Complementary & Alternative Treatments The study of Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) include acupuncture, chiropractic and naturopathy, which are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.

A recent study of the "Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Complementary Health Practices", the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), USA concludes: "No complementary health practice has been definitely shown to be helpful for IBS."

(c) Hypnotherapy Hypnotherapy attempts to address an individual's subconscious mind, using the power of suggestion for beneficial change. A hypnotherapist uses hypnosis to give relevant, positive beneficial suggestions to help an individual bring about the change they desire. In this case, the elimination or reduction of IBS symptoms with gut-directed hypnotherapy.

Dr Roland Valori of Gloucestershire Royal Hospital,UK said, "Of the relaxation therapies available, hypnotherapy is the most powerful,"

"Hypnosis Should Be Offered to Patients With IBS", Swedish Research Suggests (Dec. 18, 2012) -- Hypnotherapy helps fight IBS symptoms...

Winthington Hospital in Manchester, UK

The research team at Winthington Hospital in Manchester, UK, has shown that Hypnotherapy is an effective long-term treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with sufferers feeling the benefits for at least five years.

More than 200 patients with IBS were monitored after undergoing gut-directed hypnotherapy, each recording their symptoms, quality of life and levels of anxiety and stress before and after treatment. The researchers found that almost three-quarters (71%) of patients responded well to hypnotherapy and most did not deteriorate over time.

They concluded that "the beneficial effects of hypnotherapy appear to last at least five years", making it "a viable therapeutic option" for treating IBS.

The researchers pointed out that conventional treatments for IBS did not always prove successful. Using 204 completed questionnaires, the researchers were able to assess the effects of hypnotherapy immediately after and six years after hypnotherapy sessions lasting one hour for up to 12 weeks.

Among those who responded well, all patients registered a significant improvement in symptoms compared with before the treatment.

Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, UK

Dr Roland Valori of Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, reported that of the first 100 of his patients treated with gut directed hypnotherapy, symptoms improved significantly for nine in 10 cases. He said that although previous research has shown hypnotherapy is effective for IBS sufferers, it is not widely used. This may be because doctors simply do not believe it works.

Widely ignored

He indicated that the research evidence shows that hypnotherapy could help sufferers of IBS was first published in the 1980s.

He thinks it has been widely ignored because many doctors find it hard to believe that it does work, or to comprehend how it could work.

He began referring IBS patients for hypnotherapy in the early 1990s and has found it to be highly effective.

"To be frank, I have never looked back," he said.

He audited the first 100 cases he referred for hypnotherapy and found that the symptoms stopped completely in four out of ten cases with typical IBS.

He says a further five in 10 cases, patients reported feeling more in control of their symptoms and were therefore much less troubled by them.

"It is pretty clear to me that it has an amazing effect," he said.

"It seems to work particularly well on younger female patients with typical symptoms, and those who have only had IBS for a relatively short time."

Powerful effect

He believes that it could work partly by helping to relax patients.

"Of the relaxation therapies available, hypnotherapy is the most powerful," he said.

He also says that IBS patients often face difficult situations in their lives, and hypnotherapy can help them respond to these stresses in a less harmful way.

Dr Valori thinks that if hypnotherapy were used more widely it could possibly save the country’s money while improving patient care.

Dr Charlie Murray, Secretary of the British Gastroenterology Society, said: "There is no doubt that hypnotherapy is helpful for some patients, but it depends on the skill and experience of those practicing it.

"But the degree to which it is effective is not well defined.

" I would support using it as one therapy, but it is no panacea."

University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Other studies such as a study in Sweden found that hypnotherapy can help many people with IBS alleviate their symptoms.

Lindfors believes hypnotherapy should become standard practice for patients with severe IBS.

Perjohan Lindfors, a doctoral student at Sahlgrenska Academy, the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, came to this conclusion in a thesis titled "Implementation of gut-directed hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome in clinical practice."

According to public health authorities, between 10% to 15% of the Swedish population suffer from varying degrees of IBS. UK and USA health authorities say that between 10% to 20% of their populations suffer from some form of IBS. In Singapore, almost one in 10 people suffers from IBS.

Nobody yet knows what causes IBS, and there are no effective treatments for patients with severe symptoms. However, at the end of their study, the researchers at Sahgrenska Academy concluded "Gut-directed hypnotherapy is an effective treatment alternative for patients with refractory IBS, but the effectiveness is lower when the therapy is given outside the highly specialized research."

University Hospital of South Manchester, UK

Professor Whorwell of the University Hospital of South Manchester, UK has been researching the use of hypnotherapy in IBS for many years and as a result of his work he set up the Hypnotherapy Unit in 1994. Professor Whorwell developed his specialist technique of "Gut Focused Hypnotherapy". This involves focusing hypnotherapy on improving the function of the gut, thereby giving patients techniques to take control over the symptoms. Patients are not required to explore any past issues or hidden problems and just concentrate on looking forward and getting the IBS under better control.

Professor Whorwell’s work shows that Hypnotherapy is successful in approximately 70% of patients, which is a far better outcome and is considerably better than most treatments for IBS.

University of North Carolina, USA

In addition to the studies of IBS-directed Hypnotherapy in Europe and UK, the studies in USA come to the same conclusion. For instance, Professor Olafur S. Palsson of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill said, "One of the most promising aspects of hypnosis therapy is that its effects seem to last. Studies so far suggest that patients who improve initially typically maintain the benefits for up to five years."

He also stresses that "Hypnosis is not a cure for IBS. Most people who respond still have symptoms - but they are improved." And that improvement, Palsson added, can make a big difference in the quality of a patient's life.

University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, USA

A recent review of the "Complementary and alternative medicine for IBS in adults" by David J Kearney* and Janelle Brown-Chang University of Washington School of Medicine, Gastroenterology Section, Seattle states in one of their key points that:

  • Hypnotherapy is an evidence-based treatment for IBS - several trials show improvement of gastrointestinal symptoms, quality of life and reduced medical resource utilization in patients with IBS after hypnotherapy

From the review of the various studies, it is conclusive that gut focused hypnotherapy is effective in the treatment of IBS in western countries like UK, Europe and USA.

In Singapore we could try out the gut focused hypnotherapy as an alternative therapy on a wider basis. It will certainly save medical costs and enhance patients’ well being in the long run.

Local researchers should be encouraged to carry out more researches with funding in order to compare the Singapore results with that of the western world. In this way, effective alternate health care in IBS can also be implemented. *The writer of this article is a practicing Master Hypnotherapist. He was an IBS patient for some 40 years and with the treatment of gut-directed hypnotherapy and medication.

*The writer of this article, Mr Ho Juan Mui is a practicing Master Hypnotherapist. He was an IBS patient for some 40 years and with the treatment of gut-directed hypnotherapy and medication.