Background: We have previously shown that hypnotherapy alters rectal sensitivity in some patients with irritable bowel syndrome. However, this previous study used incremental volume distension of a latex balloon, which might be susceptible to subject response bias and might compromise the assessment of compliance. In addition, the study group was symptomatically rather than physiologically defined.
Aim: To assess the effect of hypnotherapy on rectal sensitivity in hypersensitive, hyposensitive and normally sensitive irritable bowel syndrome patients using a distension technique (barostat) that addresses these technical issues.
Methods: Twenty-three irritable bowel syndrome (Rome I) patients (aged 24-72 years) were assessed before and after 12 weeks of hypnotherapy in terms of rectal sensitivity, symptomatology, anxiety and depression. Normal values for sensitivity were established in 17 healthy volunteers (aged 20-55 years).
Results: Compared with controls, 10 patients were hypersensitive, seven hyposensitive and six normally sensitive before treatment. Following hypnotherapy, the mean pain sensory threshold increased in the hypersensitive group (P = 0.04) and decreased in the hyposensitive group, although the latter failed to reach statistical significance (P = 0.19). Normal sensory perception was unchanged. Sensory improvement in the hypersensitive patients tended to correlate with a reduction in abdominal pain (r = 0.714, P = 0.07).
Conclusion: Hypnotherapy improves abnormal sensory perception in irritable bowel syndrome, leaving normal sensation unchanged.