A hypnotherapy app for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Let’s now go back to New Scientist (NS) and to the development of a hypnotherapy app, specifically for irritable bowel syndrome, (IBS).

IBS affects 10-20% of people in England.

Common symptoms include cramping abdominal pain, this comes on with eating and is associated with loose motions. There may also be bloating and sometimes even constipation. Many treatments are available depending largely upon what type of IBS you have. For example, anti-spasmodic or something to reduce your bowel frequency. However, there is no “magic bullet.”

The app was developed by Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. In 2016 Peters et al. at Monash undertook a trial on patients with IBS comparing the effects of the FODMAP diet (a diet low in fermentable carbs) with hypnotherapy provided in person.

The results showed that hypnotherapy was as effective as diet, leading them to develop the app, called Nerva. Nerva has now been downloaded over 80,000 times.

Sessions start with the app asking you to relax different body parts, a type of body scan typical to some meditation practices. Patients are then asked to visualise a situation in which they are going to the chemist to pick up a medicine that has been designed just for their IBS. “There will be no more pain, no more bloating, and no more discomfort.”

Before and after each session, participants rank their symptoms.

The amount of data is now quite considerable. The results show that, on average, users who complete the course see a reduction in the severity of their symptoms by around 60%, which is much greater than any current medications. The challenge is that only one-fifth of people who download the app complete the course. There is a seven-day free trial; after that you will need to pay £45.

At this point, four-fifths drop out. However, the benefits are there; a 60% reduction in symptoms……. think I’d pay £45 for that!

Paul Zollinger-Read CBE

Group Medical Director 

The views expressed in the blog are my own personal views and are not intended as medical advice.

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