Background: Irritable bowel syndrome is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder that negatively affects all aspects of life. With the widespread use of the internet, internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy has been developed and applied to control symptoms and improve the quality of life of those with irritable bowel syndrome. However, few studies have systematically reviewed the effectiveness of internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy on irritable bowel syndrome.
Objective: This study aimed to systematically review studies that examined the use of internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy in patients with irritable bowel syndrome and to evaluate the effects of internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy on the improvement of symptom severity, quality of life, psychological status, and cost-effectiveness.
Methods: This meta-analysis involved the search of 6 databases for relevant publications. From the 1224 publications identified through database searches, 9 randomized controlled trials were finally included in the analysis.
Results: The internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapies including exposure-based cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy for self-management, and cognitive behavioral therapy for stress management were provided in 5 to 13 sessions for 5 to 10 weeks. Internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy had medium-to-large effects on symptom severity (standardized mean difference [SMD] –0.633; 95% CI –0.861 to –0.4304), quality of life (SMD 0.582; 95% CI 0.396-0.769), and cost-effectiveness (–0.372; 95% CI –0.704 to –0.039) at postintervention. The effects on symptom severity remained over time even after the intervention, short-term follow-up (SMD –0.391; 95% CI –0.560 to –0.221), and long-term follow-up (SMD –0.357; 95% CI –0.541 to –0.172). There was no significant difference in psychological status, including anxiety and depression, in those with irritable bowel syndrome compared to the controls during the postintervention period.
Conclusions: This review demonstrates that internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy could be a cost-effective intervention for improving symptoms and the quality of life in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. However, studies are still insufficient regarding the use of internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy in these patients; therefore, more high-quality studies are required in the future.