Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), sometimes called spastic colon, irritable colon, or nervous stomach, is a functional disorder of the bowel. Its symptoms include frequent bouts of abdominal pain, and associated with changes in bowel habit (either in frequency, urgency, or characteristics).  The primary cause is not clearly known, but an abnormal interaction between the gastrointestinal tract, brain, and central nervous system appear to cause the bowel to become overactive.


Also, the pain receptors in many IBS patients’ guts are extremely sensitive.  Stress and diet don’t cause IBS, but they can trigger symptoms.


Many people develop IBS after a bout of gastroenteritis, a bacterial infection in the intestinal tract, and is called post-infectious IBS.  As many as 78% of people with IBS have an overgrowth of intestinal bacteria.  


The major symptom of IBS is a change in the patient’s bowel function — usually diarrhea, constipation, or alternating between the two. Other symptoms include bloating, abdominal fullness, flatulence, nausea, and reflux (where stomach contents “back up”). Some people experience exhaustion or chest pain that is not cardiac–related. Depression is prevalent in IBS patients.


People with IBS often have a lower quality of life. IBS can affect sleep, sexual functioning, business and personal obligations, and social life. IBS is further complicated by comorbidity with other conditions, such as fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFIDS), and thyroid disease.


Surprisingly, IBS is more common than diabetes, asthma, heart disease, or hypertension. It affects between 20%-22% of Americans, 60%-65% of whom are women (Characteristics of IBS). Up to 70% of those meeting the diagnostic criteria for IBS do not seek treatment (Irritable Bowel Syndrome, 2002). Annual U.S. direct medical costs are estimated at $1.35 billion annually, with 3.5 million office visits and 2.2 million prescriptions filled.


Indirect costs, amounting to $205 million, include frequent absenteeism. One study estimated that IBS patients are absent from work or school three times more often than their non-IBS counterparts. Authors of another study concluded that 25% of those with IBS worked fewer hours, and 20% changed their work schedule because of the condition.


Early studies indicate that peppermint oil and Chinese herbal medicine warrant further study, as do Slippery elm, fenugreek, devil’s claw, tormentil and wei tong ning The results of one well-designed trial demonstrated that Chinese herbal medicine was significantly effective in improving symptoms, and quality of life.


Other non-drug  treatment approaches includes patient education, diet modification (including identification and avoidance of food triggers), and mind-body therapies.


The healthy and naturally occurring bacteria, Lactobacillus and Lactoacidophilus have been found to help the symptoms of this disorder, as documented in several research studies.


There is a strong mind-body component to IBS, and emotions have been shown to affect intestinal movement (known as gut motility), and patient perception, as illustrated in the study where hypnotically induced anger and excitement increased the motility of the colon, while happiness reduced motility.


The medical research literature supporting mind-body therapies is compelling and substantive. Biofeedback and relaxation techniques have improved symptoms and inhibited relapses.  preventing relapse. One approach (relaxation, therapy, and medication) was effective in two-thirds of patients who had not responded to medication alone.


Another combination regimen cognitive therapy, education, progressive muscle relaxation, and thermal biofeedback experienced a 50% success rate, maintained for four years. While meditation alone caused measurable improvements that were maintained 12 months later.


Recent reviews of medical research confirms hypnosis’ effectiveness. It includes relaxation, suggestion, and imagery for its effects, its positive effects may be due to changes in colorectal sensitivity and improved psychological factors. Hypnosis  has the capacity to  improve symptoms, even in severe difficult to treat cases, and in cases where psychotherapy has failed. Improvements can be sustained at long-term.


Patients using hypnosis with suggestions directed at the intestinal tract’s function the experienced significant symptom improvement. Also, a study reviewing the effect of therapeutic suggestions on audiotape and found them effective. The Houghton et al. study results showed “profound” improvement in physical symptoms (pain bloating and bowel habit). People also felt that their quality of life was better, and that they felt more in control of their situation. They lost less time at work and needed fewer doctor’s office visits than the control group.


Researchers of one review paper reported that, in 19 of 22 studies reviewed, psychotherapy was superior to medication.  In another report, patients receiving therapy improved, compared to those while patients receiving medication deteriorated. A large-scale British study of 250 patients) confirmed that hypnosis significantly improved not only symptoms, but also depression, anxiety, and quality of life.


An at-home pre-scripted hypnosis was also effective, but not as effective as one-on-one hypnosis. Both individual and group hypnosis sessions proved effective.


Also, Emotional Freedom Technique, EFT, also known as “psychological acupuncture,” a process of taping certain portions of the body for several seconds, while stating an affirmation to correct an emotional distress, has been found to effectively treat IBS.


Mind-body techniques are effective in not only reducing IBS’s physical symptoms, but also in lifting depression and/or improving quality of life.