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wellthought - hypnotherapy to change your life
As a practising hypnotherapist, I frequently treat clients for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Many are surprised when I tell them there is a link between stress and their painful and distressing illness.

That is not to say that Irritable Bowel Syndrome is wholly caused by stress, (some research suggests that it is viral in origin), but it is becoming clearer that a large factor in making Irritable Bowel Syndrome worse is stress. I put together this question and answer sheet which I give to my clients. You may find it useful too.

How can my stress affect my IBS?

Because of the particular link between the gut and the brain, stress can affect the way your digestive system works in a very direct way. This is obvious if you think about it.

Nearly all of us have experienced feeling nauseous or having an upset tummy when we are nervous or anxious. An American researcher called Dr Douglas Drossman has recently found that nearly three quarters of people in the general population (that is people who haven't sought help for IBS or similar conditions) say they suffer from changes in bowel function as a reaction to stressful situations and over half of these also have pain and severe discomfort. So stress and digestive problems are very closely linked. Research into exactly how this happens hasn't yet found the whole answer, but it does seem that chemical changes in the brain, brought on by stressful situations such as a bad time at work or having to do a big presentation, can affect the way what you eat goes through your digestive system.

But everyone suffers stress these days. Why have I got IBS and my friend hasn't?

Everyone is unique and different people react to stress in different ways. Some people are better able to cope with certain sorts of stress. For others, its effects come out in different ways. Some experts say people with IBS may find it more difficult to cope with stressful situations, events which some people can just shrug off can spark episodes of IBS in others and some people may also just experience stressful situations in a stronger way, and therefore feel they have chronic or acute stress for long periods of their lives.

Okay I understand that, but that can't account for the pain I feel

Yes it can. Stress and pain, or more correctly the perception of pain, are very closely linked. Again this is obvious if you stop to think about it. If you have a headache and you know you have a bad day at work coming up, it probably feels worse than if your head hurts and all you have to do that day is walk along a golden sandy beach. Stress related chemicals can affect how we perceive the pain signals our brains send out whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. But here again the close link between the digestive system and the brain can particularly affect your IBS.

The pain signals your brain sends out affect the nerve endings in your gut very directly - and that can lead to a horrid loop. The pain is making your IBS worse which in turn is making the pain worse.

I understand that but it's awful. What can I do?

Actually quite a lot. Because of the close role stress plays in making your IBS worse if we can control the stress it is likely that your IBS symptoms will decline. I always say that as a hypnotherapist I can work with you to control your IBS not cure it. Also teamwork is key here -a good hypnotherapist will work with you to access other sources of help as well. For example, some psychological drugs such as amitriptyline can help and your GP can prescribe that.

Do I need to come to a hypnotherapist? Can't I just avoid stressful situations by myself?

Possibly and some people do. But a skilled therapist can help you to find what particular triggers make IBS worse for you and then teach you how to cope with them. The other key thing a good hypnotherapist will do is teach you how to control and manage your pain. This in itself can lead to a decrease in your symptoms.
You can find out more about a programme to deal with Irritable Bowel Syndrome by visiting http://www.wellthought.co.uk/Irritable-Bowel-syndrome1.html

This is fascinating. Just finding this out makes me think I can get in control. Is there anything else I can read?

There has been some very good research into hypnotherapy and IBS in recent years. A pioneer in this field is Professor Peter Whorwell from Manchester University, who says that hypnotherapy is over 70 per cent effective. You can read more about his research at ( http://www.medicine.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/ibs ). Another good source of information is the IBS research update, produced by a team at the Central Middlesex hospital in London. You can find out more about their research at http://www.ibsresearchupdate.org/.
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