Researchers say that hypnotherapy directed specifically at the gut should be a first line treatment for children with longstanding abdominal pain or irritable bowel syndrome.
The recommendations are published in a Gastroenterology article by a group of researchers from at St. Antonius Hospital, Nieuwegein, in the Netherlands.
The dutch team, led by Dr Arine M. Vlieger, were aware of research demonstrating the beneficial effects of hypnotherapy in adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) so decided to test if it was also helpful for children with the same condition or with other abdominal pain.
A total of 53 children between the ages of eight and 18 took part in the study, all of whom were suffering from persistent abdominal pain or IBS. The children were divided into two groups with one group receiving hypnotherapy and the other receiving standard medical care and six sessions of supportive therapy.
Hypnotherapy was given in six sessions spaced over a period of three months. During the sessions the children were taught a variety of relaxation and visualisation techniques designed specifically to help them relax their guts. Visualisations included creating an image of the gut functioning normally without any discomfort.
The children also learned how to increase their self-confidence and general well-being using "ego-strengthening" suggestions.
All interventions were based around the principal of the mind-body connection and the children were taught about the mind's ability to influence bodily functions, giving them a sense of control over their symptoms.
After the children had been familiarised with hypnosis they were also given a CD containing a standardised hypnosis session and were encouraged to listen to it every day and practice self-hypnosis.
The children who did not receive hypnosis were given standard education, dietary advice, and pain medication. They were also helped to identify foods that might trigger their symptoms and avoid those.
The children were all asked to keep weekly pain diaries during the study. When the treatment trial was over the diaries showed that the hypnotherapy based treatment approach was much more effective than standard treatment
The hypnotherapy group showed significantly greater improvements with pain intensity scores dropping from 13.5 to 1.3, compared to a drop of only 14.1 to 8.0 in the standard treatment group.
Using other measures Dr. Vlieger and colleagues considered 85 per cent of children in the hypnotherapy group to be treated successfully compared to only only 25 per cent of those who received the standard treament.
Dr. Vlieger said: "We advocate that hypnotherapy become the treatment of choice in children with persisting complaints of either functional abdominal pain or IBS in whom first-line therapies such as education and dietary advice have failed."