Study: Psychotherapy Effectively Treats IBS Long-Term

Woman with stomach pain walking in a parkPsychotherapy may offer effective long-term relief for the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to a study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

IBS disrupts the activity of the large intestine, causing diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea, and stomach pain. Between 7% and 16% of American adults have IBS, contributing between $950 million and $1.35 billion in health care costs annually. Attacks of IBS often come on suddenly and can lead to anxiety about being away from home and unable to access a restroom.

Psychotherapy for IBS

Previous research pointed to the value of psychotherapy for treating IBS over a short period of time, but the latest analysis is the first to look at the long-term effects therapy can have on IBS.

Researchers looked at 41 clinical trials, allowing them to examine data from 2,290 people with IBS. About half (1,183) of the participants underwent psychotherapy, and the control group (1,107 participants) received only standard IBS treatment.

As with previous studies, this one found psychotherapy could produce moderate relief of gastrointestinal symptoms over a short period of time—between one and six months after treatment. Researchers also followed up with participants 6 to 12 months after treatment and found continued benefits. Overall, those who underwent psychotherapy had greater symptom reduction than 75% of the control group.

The study did not show a greater improvement from a single type of psychotherapy, suggesting a range of treatment options may be effective. Even online psychotherapy was effective, with participants getting results that were about as good as the results associated with in-person therapy.

The study’s authors highlight the role that stress can play in IBS. Anxiety about symptoms can make symptoms worse, creating a feedback loop that therapy helps to disrupt.

Recognizing Signs of IBS

Some people may find gastrointestinal symptoms embarrassing, and that embarrassment may keep those with IBS from seeking treatment. IBS is a treatable medical condition that may contain the following symptoms:

  • A change in bowel function, especially if it leads to weight loss
  • Persistent abdominal cramping or pain
  • Bloating
  • Chronic constipation or diarrhea; some people with IBS experience bouts of each
  • Mucus in stool
  • Rectal bleeding


  1. Irritable bowel syndrome. (2014, July 31). Retrieved from
  2. Laird, K. T., Tanner-Smith, E. E., Russell, A. C., Hollon, S. D., & Walker, L. S. (2015). Short- and long-term efficacy of psychological therapies for irritable bowel syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2015.11.020
  3. Psychotherapies have long-term benefit for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. (2015, December 28). Retrieved from

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  • jules


    January 6th, 2016 at 11:17 AM

    Really? Interesting

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