Objectives: Psychological treatments are considered to be useful in the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), although the evidence is based on small, often flawed trials. Although cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and relaxation therapy have both been promising, we hypothesized that CBT would be superior to relaxation and standard care alone in IBS patients. The objective of this study was to test this assumption by comparing the effects of cognitive behavior therapy with relaxation therapy and routine clinical care alone in individuals with IBS.
Methods: Patients (n = 105) with Rome I criteria for IBS were recruited from advertisement (n = 51) and outpatient clinics (n = 54); those patients with resistant IBS were not included. A randomized controlled trial with three arms (standard care for all groups plus either CBT or relaxation) for 8 wk was conducted, which applied blinded outcome assessments using validated measures with 1 yr of follow-up. The primary outcome for this study was bowel symptom severity.
Results: Of 105 patients at the commencement of treatment, the mean bowel symptom frequency score for the whole sample was 21.1 and at the end of treatment had fallen to 18.1; this persisted at the 52-wk follow-up, with a significant linear trend for scores to change over time (F = 39.57 p < 0.001). However, there were no significant differences among the three treatment conditions. Significant changes over time were found for physical functioning (F = 4.37, p < 0.001), pain (F = 3.12, p < 0.05), general health (F = 2.71, p < 0.05), vitality (F = 2.94, p < 0.05), and the social functioning scales on the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form 36 (F = 4.08, p < 0.05); however, all three arms showed similar improvement. There were significant reductions in anxiety, depression, and locus of control scales, but no significant differences among the treatment groups were detected.
Conclusion: Cognitive behavior and relaxation therapy seem not to be superior to standard care alone in IBS.