Gut-focused hypnotherapy normalizes disordered rectal sensitivity in patients with irritable bowel syndrome

Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2003 Mar 1;17(5):635-42. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2036.2003.01486.x.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / etiology
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional / therapy*
  • Compliance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnosis*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception
  • Sensation