Simone Peters, PhD

Gut-directed hypnotherapy (GDH) delivered by a mobile app improved overall and individual gastrointestinal symptoms among patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to findings presented at the American College of Gastroenterology Annual Scientific Meeting.

“Gut-directed hypnotherapy improves overall and individual gastrointestinal symptoms in [approximately] 70% of patients with IBS,” Simone Peters, PhD, said in a statement. “The effects are not due to a placebo response and are maintained up to 5 years post-treatment.”

However, Dr. Peters noted that access to trained hypnotherapists is limited, and therapy can be expensive. Providing GDH via a digital app has similar efficacy but improves access and significantly reduces cost.

Dr. Peters and colleagues analyzed 15,552 patients with self-reported IBS who downloaded a 42-session GDH program that was delivered via a mobile app. The first seven sessions were free. Overall and individual gastrointestinal symptoms were evaluated at baseline and 6 weeks after starting the program with a 100-mm visual analogue scale (VAS). Psychological outcomes were assessed using the PHQ4, which classifies the likelihood of psychological distress as normal (0-2), mild (3-5), moderate (6-8), and severe (9-12).

App-Delivered Hypnotherapy Similar to In-Person Treatment

From the original cohort of 15,552 users, 3,101 completed the program. Among participants who finished the program, overall gastrointestinal symptoms improved to a level that would be considered meaningful clinically (P<0.001 t-test). Symptoms also improved among participants who did not complete the program, though to a lesser degree.

Linear regression demonstrated that users who completed the program were more likely to respond (P<0.001), although the total adherence rate was generally low, with only 20% of users finishing the program. Dr. Peters and colleagues found that users who were referred by a healthcare professional were statistically more likely to finish the program (24%) compared with those who self-referred (19%), although referral by a healthcare professional did not impact gastrointestinal symptom response. Individuals who completed the program were more likely to experience psychological improvement, with a shift from moderate to mild distress (P<0.001).

Additionally, there were no side effects associated with GDH delivered via an app.

“Improvements in gut symptoms are maintained in the long-term,” Dr. Peters said. “Similar rates of efficacy are seen in app-delivered versus face-to-face delivered gut-directed hypnotherapy.”