The effect of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) on abdominal pain in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): a study protocol for a randomized controlled trial (EMDR4IBS)

Trials. 2023 Dec 4;24(1):785. doi: 10.1186/s13063-023-07784-1.


B Wertheim 1E E Aarts 2C de Roos 3Y R van Rood 4


Author information

1Diakonessenhuis Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands. bwerthei@diakhuis.nl.

2Department of Methodology and Statistics, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

3Amsterdam UMC, Academic Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Levvel, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

4Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands.


Background: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a highly prevalent disorder for which treatment options such as medication, diets, and hypnotherapy either have shown limited effect or relieve symptoms in only a limited subset of patients. Abdominal pain is the key criterion for the diagnosis and is deemed the most distressing IBS symptom, and the most disruptive of everyday life. A growing body of research demonstrates the effect of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) on chronic pain. EMDR is known as a safe and successful treatment for disorders in which unresolved traumatic memories play a role in the cause or maintenance of symptoms. In IBS, activated memories may increase pain through pain flashbacks and the stress generated by unresolved memories. The aim of this study is to ascertain whether applying EMDR to traumatic memories including pain memories will reduce abdominal pain in IBS patients.

Methods: This study is a randomized controlled trial which will be conducted at a city hospital in the Netherlands. Adult patients with considerable IBS pain (pain intensity at least 60/100 during at least 5/10 days) will be randomly assigned to either EMDR therapy or the wait list. We aim to include 34 participants. The EMDR condition comprises seven sessions, around 90 min in length delivered weekly, the first of which is a case conceptualization session. All participants will be assessed at baseline, post-treatment, and at 3 months follow-up. The primary outcome measure is pain intensity on a Likert scale which is self-reported daily during a 2-week period. Secondary outcomes include similar daily ratings on other IBS symptoms and reported hindrance of valued activities, and also standardized questionnaires on IBS symptoms and Quality of Life. Data will be analyzed by a Linear Mixed Effects Model for repeated measures.

Discussion: The results are expected to gain insight into the effectiveness of EMDR treatment on abdominal pain in IBS. As there are very few effective treatment options for IBS-related abdominal pain, this study could have important implications for clinical practice.

Trial registration: Human ethics committee MEC-U NL71740.100.20. International Clinical Trial Registry Platform: NL8894. Prospectively registered on 28 January 2020.

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