Health Watch: Hypnosis helps IBD patients

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. -- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease can create havoc on a person's insides. These immune diseases cause the intestines to become inflamed and can cause a lot of pain. In addition to traditional medicine and surgery, IBD specialists are exploring the connection between mind and gut and using alternative therapies to bring relief.

Marylou Wellbrock-Reeves has seen many doctors and specialists throughout her life-long struggle with Crohn's disease.

Wellbrock-Reeves explained, "Some of my days are racked with such pain, it's analogous to labor pain."

Her family is what keeps her going as she searches for the best way to live with a condition that has no cure.

For Wellbrock-Reeves, that includes what's called gastric-directed hypnotherapy.

Laurie Keefer, PhD, GI Health Psychologist & Associate Professor of Medicine at Susan and Leonard Feinstein IBD Clinical Center at Mount Sinai Hospital said, "The brain and the gut are connected through the vagus nerve which is responsible for communicating a whole bunch of functions. How fast things move through the body. How you process waste. How much inflammation."

Crohn's disease isn't caused by stress, but stress can amplify the symptoms.

For Wellbrock-Reeves, hypnosis is one part of a whole-body approach to managing her disease.

"I think people still think it's a magic act. It's not a magic act. It's really a heavy emphasis on focus and self-focus," said Wellbrock-Reeves.

"When a patient is in a focused state of attention, their brain is much more open to suggestion than it would be in an normal setting," said Keefer.

Hypnosis helps Wellbrock-Reeves with things like behavioral and dietary changes. Along with traditional treatment to help keep her Crohn's in control.

In addition to Mount Sinai, hypnosis for patients with digestive issues is offered at several other major hospital systems including Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and the University of Michigan. It is often covered by insurance.