Can You Treat IBS by Yourself?

Can you control your body with your mind?

Researchers have found that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a misunderstood disease that affects your large intestine, can be managed with self-taught behavioral therapy, especially if other drugs or treatments don't seem to work.

IBS is a disorder that causes diarrhea, constipation, cramping and abdominal pain. While it is not life threatening, it can severely hinder the lives of those who have it. Fearing that they will have to quickly find a bathroom, those with IBS may be afraid to attend social gatherings or go on long trips.

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While there are a few drugs that can be used to treat IBS, cognitive behavior therapy has also been used for years to help some of the 25 million Americans with this disease.

During these sessions, specially-trained therapists work with patients to try to determine what outside influences affect their IBS. Often, patients can find a pattern of when their disease is at its worst, and the doctor and patient can work on ways to avoid these conditions. Stress, too, often makes IBS symptoms worse, so cognitive behavior therapists may go over some relaxation techniques or other ways of lowering stress levels.

While some studies have shown that professional cognitive behavior therapy can help patients with IBS, the sessions tend to be costly and finding therapists trained in IBS is difficult. Also, many people with IBS don't feel comfortable talking about their disease, which often causes them to avoid seeing a physician in the first place. But even after a diagnosis of IBS, the idea of discussing bathroom habits with a stranger isn't so appealing.

To address all of these barriers that prevent patients from seeing a cognitive behavior therapist for IBS, researchers from the University at Buffalo designed a form of cognitive behavior therapy that is only four sessions long and done at home by the patient. It makes use of a workbook that patients can read and complete on their own schedule.

Almost 60 patients were enrolled in either a "self-help" study course or a 10-week long professional, in-office therapy program. And even though the "self-help" course was much shorter than the traditional program, about 73 percent of the patients enrolled in both programs found at least moderate improvement of their symptoms.

"This study shows great promise in showing that patients can control symptoms…by learning relatively simple self-care skills and tools," said Dr. Jeffrey Lackner, lead study author from the University at Buffalo.

Even better, the self-driven cognitive behavior therapy costs five times less than the more traditional therapy.

"Not only has this proven to be a cost-effective option," said Lackner. "But it appears no less effective than the more time-consuming, therapist-administered treatments that unfortunately are unavailable to most IBS patients.

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