Hypnotherapy appears to be an effective long-term treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with sufferers feeling the benefits for at least five years, new research claims.
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 results of their study, published in the journal Gut, also showed that women were more likely to respond to hypnotherapy than men.
The research was carried out by a team at Withington Hospital in Manchester, where the UK's first NHS hypnotherapy unit has been established.
As many as one in five people in Britain goes on to develop IBS, with symptoms including stomach pain, diarrhoea and constipation.
The researchers said that around half the work done by gastroenterologists concerned IBS.
They also pointed out that conventional treatments for the condition 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 treatment.
They also found there was little difference in how the patients rated the improvement for more than five years after treatment.
There was also improvement in quality of life and levels of anxiety and depression, although this decreased over time.
However, patients said there took fewer drugs and did not need to see their doctors as often after having hypnotherapy.
The researchers maintained that the sustained improvements in most of the patients could not be attributed to other treatments - as less than one in 10 attempted alternatives after finishing hypnotherapy.
They said that while past research had demonstrated the benefits of hypnotherapy in the short term, their study showed that it also worked over longer periods.
"A potential criticism for the use of hypnotherapy as a treatment for IBS has been that it is costly to provide because of the demands on therapists' time.
"However, because of its sustained effects in the majority of patients, costs of treatment could be rapidly offset by the ensuing reduction in cost of medication and other healthcare demands," the report said.
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