According to a study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) targeting rigid cognitive style reliably improved cognitive flexibility in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and those improvements were correlated with changes in IBS pain, symptom burden, and quality of life (QoL).

A total of 130 patients with a diagnosis of Rome-III IBS and moderate-to-severe symptoms were enrolled in the study. Of those patients, 86 were assigned to the CBT group, and 44 were assigned to a nonspecific education/support control. The research team performed assessments for cognitive and psychological flexibility, emotion regulation strategies, symptom severity, QoL, and distress at baseline and 2 weeks after a 10-week treatment period.

The authors observed that patients in the CBT group achieved significant gastrointestinal (GI) symptom improvement in cognitive flexibility from baseline to the posttreatment assessments. Additionally, cognitive flexibility changes in the CBT group were significantly associated with changes in IBS symptom severity, abdominal pain, and QoL.

Of note, the researchers found that neither group demonstrated significant variations in psychological flexibility or emotion regulation strategies based on the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire-II and the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire, respectively.

Ultimately, the study’s contributors proposed that, after undergoing CBT targeting rigid cognitive style, patients with IBS who were able to self-manage painful GI symptoms that had persisted through previous medical and dietary therapies were able to improve their IBS disease burden.

Reference: Lackner JM, Gudleski GD, Radziwon CD, et al. Cognitive flexibility improves in cognitive behavioral therapy for irritable bowel syndrome but not nonspecific education/support. Behav Res Ther. 2022;154:104033. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2022.104033