Hypnotherapy for gastrointestinal problems

Hypnotherapy for gastrointestinal problems

Our stomachs and intestinal systems are like a second brain – it isn’t the seat of consciousness, but it does respond to hypnosis.

This “second brain” contains some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system.   This multitude of neurons in the enteric nervous system enables us to “feel” what is going on in the inner world of our gut.


Think of the phrases we commonly use: gut instinct; butterflies in the stomach; that makes me sick to the stomach; and gut wrenching. Hypnosis can influence this “second brain” as effectively as any other neurological process.

Hypnosis and Heartburn

At least 60,000,000 Americans suffer from heartburn, sometimes the medicines work, sometimes not so well. Recently medical doctors have been turning to complementary approaches like hypnotism. This short NBC news broadcast shows why instead of reaching for TUMS you might consider hypnosis instead or in addition.

Hypnosis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a medical condition and a complex set of gastrointestinal symptoms – it may affect as many as 20% of the population in the United States.  Symptoms include cramping, diarrhea (or constipation), pain, and bloating. Over 60% of sufferers are women. IBS is actually the second likely reason reported for missed days at work.

Physicians will tell you they don’t know the causes of IBS: but they do know that IBS can be aggravated by stress and that there are some anatomical changes in the lining of the colon and to the nervous system of the colon associated with the condition. Diet can also influence IBS. Those who suffer from IBS know it is far more than a nuisance and can negatively impact quality of life.

The good news is that IBS symptoms respond to hypnosis and they often respond dramatically. Research is plentiful and convincing. It is so convincing that a leading health leader (Dr Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, chair of the National Women’s Health Network) has stated that “hypnosis should be the treatment of choice for all severe cases of IBS.”

I have had the privilege of working with cancer patients in the complementary care program at Women and Infants often getting great results helping them reduce anticipatory nausea with self-hypnosis.

NBC News 2017

Study Shows Long-Term IBS Symptom Relief

Study Shows Long-Term IBS Symptom Relief

In the largest long-term study of hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to date, seven out of 10 patients reported an improvement in symptoms after treatment and four out of five respondents maintained the improvement for years after stopping hypnosis. Those who did not maintain a response to hypnosis only deteriorated slightly.

“We have known that this treatment is effective, but this study confirms that patients can maintain the improvements for many years,” researcher Wendy M. Gonsalkorale, PhD, tells WebMD. “There is growing interest in hypnosis for the treatment of IBS, but too few patients know about it.”

Most Sufferers Are Women

As many as 58 million Americans suffer from the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and four out of five sufferers are women, based on figures from the American College of Gastrointerology.

Typically people with IBS have recurrent symptoms of abdominal pain, distention, and altered bowel movements — diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both. Because there is no obvious cause for the array of gastrointestinal disturbances experienced by patients and conventional GI treatments often do not work.

It has been almost two decades since British researcher Peter Whorwell and colleagues first reported on the use of hypnotherapy in the treatment of IBS. Since that time other small studies have also shown hypnosis to be effective, but this new research, appearing in the latest issue of Gut, is the first to follow a large group of patients for years after treatment.

For the study, Gonsalkorale and Whorwell followed 204 patients for up to six years. Researchers asked patients to score their IBS symptoms, as well as their overall quality of life, and levels of depression and anxiety immediately before hypnotherapy and after the treatment. They also responded to a mailed questionnaire sent at least a year and no more than six years after treatment ended. The hypnotherapy course consisted of 12-weekly, one-hour sessions.

Almost three-quarters of the patients (71%) gave positive reports following hypnotherapy, and 81% said they maintained their improvement over time. The sustained improvements reported by most of the patients could not be attributed to other treatments because fewer than one in 10 used other treatments following hypnotherapy.

“This study demonstrates that the beneficial effects of hypnotherapy appear to last at least five years,” the researchers write. “Thus, it is a viable therapeutic option for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.”

Researcher Olafur S. Palsson, PsyD, who has studied IBS says the number of patients in the new study and the length of follow-up put hypnosis in a favorable light and possibly show it may be the most effective long-term treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. But he says that it is still rarely offered to IBS patients and is not often covered by insurance.

“Hypnotherapy still carries the aura of mystery and magic, and is not really used much for medical conditions in this country,” Palsson says. “It requires special training that clinicians in most medical settings simply do not have. And it is considered more costly than drug therapy because it requires repeated sessions.”

The University of North Carolina researcher says hypnosis may actually be much cheaper than other treatments because the long-term results appear to be so promising.

“There are only a couple of medications approved for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, and it can be expensive to keep patients on these medications long-term,” says Palsson. “For many patients, hypnotherapy is a very cost-effective way of improving outcome.”

By: Salynn Boyles Web MD


NBC News: For tummy troubles, hypnosis might be the answer

NBC News: For tummy troubles, hypnosis might be the answer

Sixty million Americans deal with this uncomfortable sensation at least once a month: heartburn. It’s not only painful, but can be life-altering, or even deadly if ignored. No wonder that heartburn and other gastrointestinal medications are among the most popular drugs on the market. But these “miracle drugs” are far from perfect; some patients report mixed results and long-term side effects.

For patients who don’t get relief from medication, their gastroenterologists are turning to psychologists for help. Hypnotherapy can be an effective treatment for heartburn and other stomach conditions. It’s a powerful alternative treatment, backed with plenty of scientific evidence, which is increasingly being offered at the nation’s leading medical centers.“

There’s a robust amount of literature behind hypnotherapy beginning in the 1980s,” said Laurie Keefer, Ph.D, director of psychosocial research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “We’ve really taken to calling it brain-gut therapy.”

Hypnosis, which exploits the relationship between the mind and digestive system, can also help with conditions like GERD and the inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Untreated GERD has been linked to esophageal cancer.

Amber Ponticelli, 35, started having digestive problems in 2007. Initially, she only felt dizzy and weak in the morning, but soon developed severe abdominal pain. Unable to eat or drink for months, she lost 20 pounds and was ultimately left bedridden.

After seeing multiple gastroenterologists at leading medical institutions, she was eventually diagnosed with a genetic condition that is associated with many GI symptoms.
“I thought I was dying. I had to quit my job and ended up moving to the city with my boyfriend just to be closer to the doctors I was seeing in the city,” Ponticelli told NBC News.
After traditional treatment like medications and lifestyle changes, a wary Ponticelli was referred to Keefer for a hypnotherapy session.

Hypnosis uses progressive relaxation techniques through suggestions of calming imagery and sensations. Patients are able to concentrate on improving their symptoms which often range from abdominal pain and constipation to diarrhea and bloating.

For the therapy to be effective it takes a series of eight or more visits and some homework is required of the patient, like listening to tapes at home. The treatment is covered by most insurance plans and cost for each visit ranges between $100 and $150.

Contrary to many popular portrayals on television and in fiction, a clinical hypnotherapist does not have mind-control over the hypnotized patient. The patient is usually aware of what is happening and their surroundings, both during and after a hypnosis session. A session can be offered in-person and remotely, via a service called telemedicine.

“Telemedicine is critical because not every place in the country has somebody qualified or trained to provide this treatment, so it allows us to have a much broader reach for these very common disorders,” Keefer told NBC News.

Studies show more than three quarters of patients experience at least a 50 percent reduction in symptoms. Many are able to stop medication, including popular acid reducing drugs.
Hypnosis optimizes the brain depth function, but it’s not a fix for everyone.

Approximately 15-20 percent of people can’t be hypnotized, said Dr. Olaf Palsson, psychologist and professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Fortunately, patients do not have to be highly hypnotizable to benefit from gut-directed hypnotherapy, so many could find relief.

According to gastroenterologist Dr. Rajeev Jain of the American Gastroenterological Association, gut-directed hypnosis therapy can treat functional disorders of the GI tract, such as irritable bowel syndrome, where there is often a large overlay of depression and anxiety disorders. He views hypnotherapy as one form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Lifestyle factors such as diet are also important and should be taken into account.

Today, Ponticelli, who lives outside of Chicago, is back to work as a Pilates instructor, and eating her favorite foods, an activity she had not enjoyed in years. She’s also eating for two. “I’m 17-and-a-half weeks along now and feel good,” said Ponticelli.

She still takes some medications, but adding hypnotherapy to her regimen has been life-changing. “I’m extremely grateful that I’m actually doing this and I don’t think I would have been able to do anything without this treatment. That’s the real truth of it.”

By: Parminder Deo