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Laura was previously the editorial assistant on Healthy Food Guide. She is now a freelance journalist specialising in health, wellbeing, food & travel.

How’s your stomach feeling today? Bloated, cramped, gassy? Maybe it’s been days since you went to the toilet, or perhaps you’ve lost count of how many times you’ve been. These are typical symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a gastrointestinal condition that affects between one-tenth and one-fifth of the UK population. As well as physical symptoms, there can be emotional and behavioural symptoms, too, such as worrying about where the nearest loo is, or cutting out a certain food because your symptoms have flared up.

A different approach to tackling IBS?

Emotional thoughts and behaviours have been at the forefront of new research recently published in the journal Gut. It found that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for IBS sufferers.

In fact, researchers concluded CBT is more effective than other current medications and diet advice.

‘In 2008 when I was working as a GP, I was struggling to help patients with IBS,’ says the lead author of the research, Dr Hazel Everitt, who’s an associate professor in general practice at the University of Southampton. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines currently recommend CBT as a form of treatment for IBS, however, so Hazel and her team at Southampton and King’s College London began a trial.

How this 9-week trial was conducted:

CBT addresses the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are common to many IBS patients, and can therefore help to break the vicious circle they often experience. In the trial, patients were treated over nine weeks with either six phone therapy sessions and a patient manual, or online with fewer phone sessions.

The severity of symptoms was measured, along with the impact they had on social and work life. ‘Patients had improvements in all outcomes, which makes the results much more powerful,’ says Hazel. ’This research has shown that CBT for IBS can enable patients to get on with their lives more fully.’

The team is now working with the NHS to make the treatment available. CBT by telephone is gradually being introduced and a self-referral service is expected to become available online via Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). Find out more here.

CBT for you

So what’s involved in the treatment, and could it work for you? Discover our guide on the most common steps used in targeted therapy for IBS.