Latest Research
No longer afraid to be a bridesmaid or travel with the boss
May 13, 2009 - 3:59:36 AM

CHICAGO --- One of Laurie Keefer's patients was afraid to be a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding, others worried about traveling with the boss or even going to parties in peoples' homes.

The patients have ulcerative colitis, a nasty gastrointestinal disease that flares without warning and makes it vital for them to find a bathroom fast. The disease is often diagnosed when people are in their late 20s and early 30s. The flare-up is like having a severe stomach bug that can drag on for weeks. It ruins vacation plans, causes lengthy absences from work and generally messes up peoples' lives at a time when they are trying to build careers and meet a romantic partner or marry.

But some of Keefer's patients are less fearful these days and starting to embrace activities they once avoided. They've been taking part in a new National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded research study to test whether hypnotherapy can extend the time between their flare-ups. Currently, the treatments for ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, include a fistful of pills -- up to a cumbersome 12 a day that reduce the risk of flares but that many forget to take, as well as steroids or surgery to remove their colon.

In an early look at the data for the ongoing study, Keefer, a clinical health psychologist and an assistant professor of medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, is finding that treatment with hypnotherapy enabled some subjects' to socialize more and get involved in activities such as eating at restaurants, exercising and road trips. Some subjects feel less impaired by their disease and are better at remembering to take their pills.

The patient who was afraid to stand up at a friend's wedding is now going to be a bridesmaid. The patient who was nervous about getting on a plane with the boss is now taking business trips with him.

The study will be enrolling a total of 80 patients over three years and will track the progress of each patient for one year. Thus far, 27 subjects have enrolled in the study and completed the required eight weeks of hypnotherapy sessions. As a part of the study, subjects also listen to special relaxation tapes up to five times per week.

While it's too early in the study to know if the hypnotherapy has prolonged their remissions, only two of 12 subjects who have participated in the study for a full year have experienced a relapse, whereas based on their history, all 12 subjects would have been expected to have had two or more relapses within the year.

These numbers are encouraging because the study specifically targets individuals who flare a couple times a year, Keefer said. Subjects are also expected to take their routine maintenance medication during the trial.

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