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Cognitive behavioural therapy can provide better long-term relief for IBS symptoms than standard treatment, research finds


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) tailored specifically for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and delivered over the telephone or online is more effective in relieving the symptoms of IBS than current standard care, NIHR funded research has found.

The study, which was today published in the journal GUT, was led by the University of Southampton.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder affecting 10 – 20 per cent of people. Abdominal pain, bloating and altered bowel habit significantly affect patient’s quality of life and can force them to take days off work.  

In a study which is the largest of its kind, researchers at the University, in partnership with King’s College London carried out a trial involving 558 patients who had ongoing significant IBS symptoms despite having tried other IBS treatments for at least a year. Rona Moss-Morris, Professor of Psychology as Applied to Medicine and Trudie Chalder, Professor of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy from King’s College London, developed the IBS specific CBT programmes, which both involve eight treatment sessions but differing amounts of therapist input.

The findings show that those who received either form of CBT were more likely to report significant improvement in severity of symptoms and impact on their work and life after 12 months of treatment compared to those who only received current standard IBS treatments.

The research team is now working towards making the therapy widely available in the NHS. 

Dr Hazel Everitt, Associate Professor in General Practice at the University of Southampton, said: “We previously knew that face-to-face CBT sessions could be helpful for treating IBS and this type of treatment is recommended in the National Institute for Clinical Excellence’s guidelines. However, in my experience as a GP, I have found that availability is extremely limited.

She added: “The fact that both telephone and web based CBT sessions were shown to be effective treatments is a really important and exciting discovery. Patients are able to undertake these treatments at a time convenient to them, without having to travel to clinics.’’

Professor Hywel Williams, Director of the NIHR's Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme, which funded the study, said: "The results of this study provide important new evidence of how CBT delivered over the telephone or online can provide an effective treatment for patients living with this chronic and common gastrointestinal disorder. The research also provides important information for health care professionals who plan and deliver NHS care for people with irritable bowel syndrome."

More information on the ACTIB study (Assessing Cognitive behavioural Therapy in Irritable Bowel) is available on the NIHR Journals Library website.