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Crohn’s Disease and Mind-Body Medicine

Fighting the fatigue, stress, and pain of Crohn’s disease with mind-body medicine techniques can bring more than just symptom relief — it can have a positive impact on how well you manage Crohn’s disease and your overall health in general.

People with Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases often have what medical experts call “psychophysiological vulnerability.” This means that stress, emotional health, and poor coping strategies can affect the progression of their disease as well as their overall quality of life — and the idea is backed up by research published in the journal Gastroenterology in 2013. Although medication and medical interventions are necessary for healing the physical symptoms of Crohn’s disease, ignoring the emotional and cognitive aspects that accompany the disease can be harmful too.

The Stress-Crohn’s Connection

Stress doesn’t cause Crohn’s disease, but it can trigger flares, which in turn make the disease harder to manage. A study in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 2012 confirmed the link between stress and gastrointestinal (GI) function, specifically between stress and reactivation of inflammation in the GI tract. Left unmanaged, stress negatively affects the course of inflammatory bowel disease, the study found.

One approach to manage this may be mind-body medicine, which can help resolve stress associated with having Crohn’s disease. By promoting emotional well-being and teaching you effective coping skills, the techniques of mind-body medicine may help you maintain a sense of control when flares occur.

“Mind-body medicine helps ease physical symptoms by identifying and treating underlying psychosocial stresses,” says David D. Clarke, MD, president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association and a clinical assistant professor of gastroenterology emeritus and assistant director at the Center for Ethics at Oregon Health & Science University. “The value of mind-body medicine as an essential component of traditional medicine has been recognized for ages. Unfortunately, over the last century, the growth of technology in health care has reduced recognition of the importance of psychosocial issues as a contributor to illness.”

However, with stress continuing to be a factor in most adults’ lives, Dr. Clarke says that the benefits of mind-body medicine are being re-explored by researchers, medical professionals, and individuals who are looking for ways to feel better.

Mind-Body Medicine Techniques for Crohn’s Disease

If you have Crohn’s disease and want to add a mind-body therapy to your treatment plan, consider these approaches:

  • Psychotherapy. Talk it out. Multi-convergent therapy (MCT) is a form of psychotherapy that combines cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness meditation. A study published in the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Crohn’s & Colitis showed that MCT may be a useful tool for symptom management in people with inflammatory bowel disease or high stress levels.
  • Deep breathing. Take a deep breath. Deep and slow breathing is a component of various relaxation techniques. But according to research published in the journal Cognitive and Behavioral Practice in 2013, even just breathing deeply and slowly on your own may help lessen abdominal pain.
  • Yoga. Grab that mat. Yoga seems to enable changes in perception of and response to pain. A study in the Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences in 2011 explored the connection between pain management and yoga. Participants who completed an eight-week Hatha yoga program reported that the sensory aspects of pain didn’t change, but that they were less bothered by it and better able to control the extent to which pain interrupted their daily life.
  • Hypnosis. Check your gut reaction. Gut-directed hypnotherapy might improve quality of life and your ability to cope with having a chronic disease, although research on this is limited. A study published in the journal Biological Research for Nursing followed 43 people with inflammatory bowel disease who participated in gut-directed hypnotherapy through an outpatient clinic. Researchers concluded that the small study supported future clinical trials testing gut-directed hypnotherapy as a tool to prevent relapses in people with inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Religion and spirituality. Lean on your faith. A study in the journal Pain Medicine in 2009 surveyed 580 chronic pain sufferers and reported that dependence on religion and spirituality was a beneficial coping process.

As you explore different mind-body approaches for managing Crohn’s disease, seek out practitioners who are familiar with the disease. For instance, a psychotherapist who understands the emotional impact of Crohn’s disease is probably well suited to help you process your thoughts and feelings. A yoga instructor or meditation coach with knowledge of the type of pain associated with Crohn’s disease may be better able to guide you as you learn these new skills.

Plus, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America has information on its website to help you find practitioners in your area.

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Diet and Lifestyle

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