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CBT can provide ‘better’ long-term relief for irritable bowel symptoms

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Cognitive behavioural therapy tailored specifically for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is more effective in relieving the symptoms than usual care, according to UK researchers.

Their research suggested that tailored CBT delivered over the telephone or through an interactive website was more effective in relieving the symptoms of IBS than current standard care.

“Patients are able to undertake these treatments at a time convenient to them”

Hazel Everitt

The results could make a real difference to patients with IBS, which affects 10-20% of people but who currently have very limited access to CBT in a resource constrained NHS, said the researchers.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers carried out a trial involving 558 patients who had ongoing significant IBS symptoms despite having tried other treatments for at least a year.

They developed two IBS specific CBT programmes, which both involved eight treatment sessions but differing amounts of therapist input – one being phone based and the other online.

The findings showed 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, compared to those who only received current standard IBS treatments.

The study, published in the journal Gut, was carried out by researchers at the University of Southampton and King’s College London.

Lead author Dr Hazel Everitt, associate professor in General Practice at 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,” noted Dr Everitt added.

She said: “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,” she added.

“The most important next step is for these tailored CBT treatments to be made more widely available”

Rona Moss-Morris

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research. The research team said it was now working towards making the therapy widely available in the NHS.

Study author Professor Rona Moss-Morris, from King’s College London, said: “The most important next step is for these tailored CBT treatments to be made more widely available.”

As a result, she was currently training NHS therapists at pre-existing Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) services, so “more people suffering from IBS can access these treatments quickly”.

“We are also working with a commercial partner to bring web-based CBT to the NHS and other parts of the world,” she added.

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