Hypnosis may bring long lasting relief to some children with chronic abdominal pain or irritable bowel syndrome, a small Dutch study suggests.
“We’ve known that it has short-term effects, six months to a year,” noted University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assistant professor of medicine Miranda van Tilburg. But the new study suggests that the relief obtained from hypnosis may be longer lasting. “The hope is that people will master the skill, and then practice it as a lifelong skill,” said van Tilburg.
As many as 20 percent of children are thought to be inflicted with functional abdominal pain, which is chronic stomach pain that cannot be tracked to a specific disorder. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can cause a number of symptoms — most commonly diarrhea, constipation, or alternating bouts of both.
Dr. Arine M. Vlieger of the Netherlands-based St. Antonius Hospital led the team of researchers that looked at 52 children in the trial. The children participated in six hypnosis sessions with a therapist and also received CD’s aimed to help them work through self-hypnosis sessions at home.
The children were taught to conjure up images of a normal bowel function, similar to that of a smooth, flowing body of water. In the case of chronic stomach pain and irritable bowel syndrome, the hypnosis is called “gut-directed” hypnotherapy. On a broader application, hypnosis involves the creation of relaxing images in the mind in order to ease symptoms of anxiety and pain.
The results of the study revealed that after five years, close to 70 percent of the children in the hypnosis group were mostly free from chronic abdominal pain, while only 20 percent of kids who only received standard care were pain free. Other digestive symptoms, like bowel and bloating problems, were better in the hypnosis group.
Standard treatment for abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome includes dietary changes, increased fiber and pain medication. When those treatments fail, numerous studies dating back to the 1980s have found that hypnosis can help. The Dutch study further confirms that gut-directed hypnotherapy is a viable treatment option.
Van Tilburg and her associates are investigating the possibility of making self-hypnosis gut therapy more widely available on a CD. This in part is due to a 2009 study, which found that children learned how to ease their functional abdominal pain by at least 50 percent through CD-based self-hypnosis.
The gut-directed hypnotherapy study was published online in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.