Objective: Although the standard treatments for the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are medical, growing evidence indicates the substantial therapeutic value of psychological therapy. However, it has not been investigated whether the combination of multicomponent behavioral therapy plus medical treatment is more effective than medical treatment alone. The aim of this study was to investigate this question in patients consulting a tertiary gastrointestinal (GI) referral center.
Methods: Twenty-four IBS outpatients were randomly assigned to the combination of standardized multicomponent behavioral therapy plus standard medical treatment (SMBT) or standard medical treatment alone (SMT). SMBT included IBS information and education, progressive muscle relaxation, training in illness-related cognitive coping strategies, problem-solving, and assertiveness training in 10 sessions over 10 wk. SMT included standardized symptom-oriented medical treatment and regular visits to a gastroenterologist every second week. Posttreatment outcome measures consisted of quantification of GI, vegetative, and psychological symptoms by means of daily symptom diaries and the assessment of changes in rectovisceral perception thresholds, as well as of questionnaire measures on psychological distress, overall well-being, illness-related coping abilities, and quality of life. Follow-ups were conducted at 3- and 6-month intervals.
Results: Pre- and posttreatment evaluations showed significantly (p < 0.01) greater IBS symptom reduction as measured by daily symptom diaries for the SMBT group than for the SMT group. Rectovisceral perception remained unchanged by either treatment. Overall well-being significantly improved in the SMBT group but remained unchanged in the SMT group. Subjects in the SMBT group, unlike those in the SMT group, felt significantly more in control of their health, and quality of life was significantly improved in the SMBT group but remained unchanged in the SMT group.
Conclusions: The data provide evidence that the combination of medical treatment plus multicomponent behavioral treatment is superior to medical treatment alone in the therapy of IBS.