Is Hypnosis Good for IBS Symptoms?

Shayla Love, Vice | May 4, 2018

Three years ago, the only foods that 61-year-old Janet Westfall could eat were cottage cheese, rice cereal, pretzels, and egg whites.

She’d had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for more than 20 years, and her symptoms were steadily getting worse. She couldn’t eat any fruits, vegetables, or meats. Those four bland, off-white foods were it.

“You can just imagine what that did to me,” she tells me. “Malnutrition, severe weight loss, immune system compromise. The best way to describe what would happen if I had anything else, without getting into too much disgusting detail, was: Imagine having a very bad stomach and intestinal flu, where you think you're going to die, and you kind of hope that you do.”

Westfall went to multiple doctors and gastroenterologists at the best hospitals in Chicago, near the suburb where she lives. After a battery of tests they would always say to her that they didn’t find anything wrong.

IBS is a functional disorder, which means that while the body’s function is impaired, its structure is unchanged. Functional disorders come back with normal x-rays, endoscopies, and blood tests, even as a person is suffering horrible symptoms. If Westfall ate food that was hot or warm, it could lead to a flare up. A mouthful of tea, or just plain hot water, could cause a reaction.

Last fall, Westfall was in the hospital on an IV, unable to keep any food down. She thought to herself, where am I going with this? What’s going to happen to me? Then she remembered that she had seen a segment on NBC about Laurie Keefer, a gastroenterologist at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York who was treating patients with IBS with hypnotherapy. Keefer had said it was helpful in people who couldn’t find relief anywhere else.

“I thought, ‘Well, that sounds like me,’” Westfall remembers. ““Would I have gone ahead and tried hypnosis if other, more normal things were working? I don't know.”