June 24, 2010 / 1:46 AM / in 7 years

Can writing help calm irritable bowel syndrome?

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Jotting down your deepest thoughts and emotions might improve your symptoms if you are one of the 15 percent of Americans with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to a small U.S. study.

Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine enrolled 103 people in a pilot study to see if so-called “expressive writing” could help people with IBS and found patients did report improvements after such writing.

These findings support earlier research showing this type of writing, in which participants are encouraged to “really let go” and get to the bottom of their feelings, can be beneficial for some -- but they added the results were very preliminary.

“In this exploratory study, expressive writing improved IBS disease severity and cognition in subjects with longer-term duration of the disease,” researcher Albena Halpert wrote in the study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

“A large, controlled study is warranted to evaluate the therapeutic potential of this novel modality for adjunctive management of IBS in the outpatient setting.”

The study ( link.reuters.com/jyd73m) involved 103 people with an average age of 43 of which 82 were asked to write online for 30 minutes on four consecutive days about their deepest thoughts, emotions and beliefs regarding the disease and their perception of its effects.

This exercise had previously been shown to help people with depression as well as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, high blood pressure and AIDS.

The 82 patients in the writing exercise reported improvements in disease severity, coping and thinking (including negative thoughts) one and three months after writing. At three months, they also said their quality of life was better.

This improvement was not seen in the non-writing group.

Symptoms of IBS may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating and constipation.

The researchers, while recognizing the need for further study, said psychological treatment strategies for IBS were becoming increasingly popular as the link between the brain, stress, and the gut’s nervous system plays a well-established role in IBS.

But given that seeing a therapist is both time-consuming and costly, they said online expressive writing “offers self-help to patients with IBS and may possibly reduce the health-care utilization associated with this common chronic gastrointestinal disorder.”

Reporting by Frederik Joelving, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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