Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common chronic disorder associated with psychological distress and reduced health-related quality of life (HRQoL). Therefore, stress management is often employed in the hope of alleviating IBS symptoms. But does it work?
This systematic review investigated the effects of stress management for adults with IBS on typical symptoms, HRQoL, and mental health. The predefined criteria included:
- patients: adults with IBS;
- intervention: stress management;
- control: care as usual or waitlist;
- outcome: patient-relevant;
- study-type: controlled trials.
Two researchers independently reviewed the publications retrieved through electronic searches and assessed the risk of bias using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network checklist. The researchers performed a meta-analysis with homogeneous trials of acceptable quality.
After screening 6656 publications, 10 suitable randomized trials of acceptable (n = 5) or low methodological quality (n = 5) involving 587 patients were identified. The meta-analysis showed no effect of stress management on IBS severity 1-2 months after the intervention (Hedges’ g = -0.23, 95%-CI = -0.84 to -0.38, I2 = 86.1%), and after 3-12 months (Hedges’ g = -0.77, 95%-CI = -1.77 to -0.23, I2 = 93.3%). One trial found a short-term reduction of symptoms, and one trial found symptom relief in the long term (at 6 months). One of two studies that examined HRQoL found an improvement (after 2 months). One of two studies that examined depression and anxiety found a reduction of these symptoms (after 3 weeks).
The authors concluded that stress management may be beneficial for patients with IBS regarding the short-term reduction of bowel and mental health symptoms, whereas long-term benefits are unclear. Good quality RCTs with more than 6 months follow-up are needed.
Considering the actual evidence, I find the conclusions rather odd. Would it not have been more honest to state something along the following lines?:
There is currently no convincing evidence to suggest that stress management benefits IBS patients.
So why, be not more open and less misleading?
Could some of the authors’ affiliations provide a clue?
- Department for Internal and Integrative Medicine, Sozialstiftung Bamberg Hospital, Bamberg, Germany.
- Department for Integrative Medicine, University of Duisburg-Essen, Medical Faculty, Bamberg, Germany.
Quite possibly, yes!