It has been established for some time that psychological therapies can aid in reducing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms in the short term. However, new research has shown that the effects psychotherapies offer also extend on the long term.

As a gastrointesinal disorder, IBS affects between 7 and 16 percent of the population in the United States. This results in health care costs reaching $950 million to $1.35 billion every year, owing to the various treatment options employed to address the condition as it does not have a cure.

For a study published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, researchers carried out a meta-analysis involving 2,200 patients across 41 clinical trials from different countries and found that the benefits of psychotherapies appear to last anywhere between six and 12 months after treatment has concluded.

According to senior author Lynn S. Walker, the study is the first to look at the long-term effects of psychological therapies. Walker added that the finding is significant as IBS is a chronic condition. Currently, treatment options for it include medication, dietary adjustments and psychological intervention.

"Western medicine often conceptualizes the mind as separate from the body, but IBS is a perfect example of how the two are connected," said Kelsey Laird, the study's first author.

Laird further explained that gastrointestinal symptoms have the ability to increase anxiety and stress, leading to symptoms growing more severe. This perpetuates a vicious cycle that psychotherapies have been found to address.

After analyzing a variety of psychotherapies, like hypnosis, relaxation and cognitive therapies, the researchers discovered that effectiveness did not vary among them and it also didn't matter how long a certain treatment has been carried out. Additionally, Walker, Laird and their other colleagues found that psychotherapies carried out online have the same level of effectiveness as sessions done in person.

In a follow-up study, Laird said she is investigating the effects of psychotherapies on the ability of IBS patients to function normally, such as going to work or school and participating in social activities without trouble.

Other authors for the study include Steve D. Hollon, Alexandra C. Russell and Emily E. Tanner-Smith.

Photo: Nickolai Kashirin | Flickr

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