Improve Medically Unexplained Symptoms with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindful people might have lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and better heart health. One study found that people who got a flu vaccine after 8 weeks of mindfulness training developed more antibodies against the flu than those who only got the vaccine. It may relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and cut down on migraines, too.” – WebMD
Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mental, physical, and spiritual life. Mindfulness appears to be beneficial both for healthy people and for people suffering from a myriad of illnesses. It appears to be beneficial across ages, from children to the elderly. And it appears to be beneficial across genders, personalities, race, and ethnicity. The breadth and depth of benefits is unprecedented. There is no other treatment or practice that has been shown to come anyway near the range of mindfulness’ positive benefits.
A number of patients come to see a physician with long-lasting subjective symptoms that do not have a clear medical explanation. Examples are fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome. It is important to establish if mindfulness may also be effective for these medically unexplained symptoms. The evidence has been accumulating. It is important, then, to step back and summarize what has been learned.
In today’s Research News article “What Works in Mindfulness Interventions for Medically Unexplained Symptoms? A Systematic Review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7373253/) Billones and Saligan review and summarize the published research studies on the effectiveness of mindfulness training for the treatment of patients with medically unexplained symptoms including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. They identified 24 controlled trials which included a total of 2126 participants who were primarily female (98%).
They report that the published studies found that in comparison to control conditions and baseline, mindfulness-based interventions produced significant reductions in symptom severity with moderate to large effect sizes. There were also significant improvements in pain, anxiety, and depression. The results suggest that mindfulness training is highly effective in reducing the symptoms of medically unexplained symptoms.
So, improve medically unexplained symptoms with mindfulness.
“it’s encouraging to know that something that can be taught and practiced can have an impact on our overall health—not just mental but also physical—more than 2,000 years after it was developed. That’s reason enough to give mindfulness meditation a try.” – Jill Suttie
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Billones, R., & Saligan, L. (2020). What Works in Mindfulness Interventions for Medically Unexplained Symptoms? A Systematic Review. Asian/Pacific Island Nursing Journal, 5(1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.31372/20200501.1082
Background/Purpose: Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been used in medically unexplained symptoms (MUS). This systematic review describes the literature investigating the general effect of MBIs on MUS and identifies the effects of specific MBIs on specific MUS conditions. Methods: The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis Guidelines (PRISMA) and the modified Oxford Quality Scoring System (Jadad score) were applied to the review, yielding an initial 1,556 articles. The search engines included PubMed, ScienceDirect, Web of Science, Scopus, EMBASE, and PsychINFO using the search terms: mindfulness, or mediations, or mindful or MBCT or MBSR and medically unexplained symptoms or MUS or Fibromyalgia or FMS. A total of 24 articles were included in the final systematic review. Results/Conclusions: MBIs showed large effects on: symptom severity (d = 0.82), pain intensity (d = 0.79), depression (d = 0.62), and anxiety (d = 0.67). A manualized MBI that applies the four fundamental elements present in all types of interventions were critical to efficacy. These elements were psycho-education sessions specific to better understand the medical symptoms, the practice of awareness, the nonjudgmental observance of the experience in the moment, and the compassion to ones’ self. The effectiveness of different mindfulness interventions necessitates giving attention to improve the gaps that were identified related to home-based practice monitoring, competency training of mindfulness teachers, and sound psychometric properties to measure the mindfulness practice.