Health A to Z

Children's Health: Hypnotherapy eases abdominal pain in kids

Treatment for irritable bowel syndrome focuses on breathing exercises and lowering anxiety

Children with unexplained abdominal pain and diarrhea or constipation may benefit from a hypnotherapy treatment involving relaxation exercises.

In fact, a recent study of children with long-standing gastrointestinal complaints showed those who received hypnotherapy had significantly greater relief of their symptoms than those who received standard medical therapy.

“These disorders are highly prevalent in childhood and are one of the most common reasons for consultations in pediatrics,” says Dr. Arine Vlieger, the lead investigator and a pediatrics fellow at St. Antonius Hospital in Nieuwegein, the Netherlands.

The children in the study had either functional abdominal pain, which involves no other symptoms and a normal physical exam, or irritable bowel syndrome, which additionally involves diarrhea and constipation, but is also unaccompanied by any physical defect in the intestines.

Standard treatments for IBS and functional abdominal pain in children include prescribing pain medication, educating the child about their disorder, identifying potential pain triggers and offering dietary advice. Nonetheless, 25 to 66 per cent of these children will continue to experience symptoms into adulthood, Vlieger says.

Her study involved 53 children between eight and 18 years old who were randomly assigned to receive either hypnotherapy or standard care. The children in the hypnotherapy group attended six half-hour sessions over a three-month period. Chiefly, the sessions focused on progressive breathing techniques, gut exercises and lowering anxiety.

Immediately following treatment, 59 per cent of the hypnotherapy patients were cured versus only 12 per cent of the standard-therapy group. A “cure” was defined as a greater than 80 per cent improvement in pain intensity and frequency scores. After one year, the cure rates were 85 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.

“Gut-directed hypnotherapy is extremely effective for treating children with IBS and functional abdominal pain,” Vlieger says, although she adds that further studies are needed to confirm her findings.

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