Could Your IBS Really be Bacterial Overgrowth?


IBSSmall intestinal bacterial overgrowth, known as SIBO, is an imbalance of bacteria in the gut which shares many symptoms with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many people who believe they suffer from IBS, a long term, chronic condition which can be difficult to manage, may actually be suffering from SIBO, a condition which can be treated with antibiotics.

A 2002 study undertaken by researchers in California investigated the association between SIBO and IBS and found that many patients’ gastrointestinal discomfort could be improved with treatment for SIBO. They examined patients who had been referred by their doctors after a detection of SIBO. Patients who were considered to have IBS in accordance with standard symptom criteria were prescribed a 10-day course of antibiotics to deal with the bacterial overgrowth.

48% of the patients responded well to the antibiotics and successfully eliminated SIBO. They also no longer met the standard symptom criteria for an IBS diagnosis. The researchers concluded that there was a high prevalence of SIBO among patients with IBS, and that treating the SIBO could help many to overcome uncomfortable IBS symptoms.

Is Bacterial Overgrowth Causing Your IBS?

The reason why SIBO is so closely linked with irritable bowel syndrome is that many of the symptoms are very similar. SIBO can cause excessive bloating, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux and heartburn, all of which are common among IBS sufferers. Food intolerances, allergies and leaky gut syndrome all also share similar symptoms, which can make it tough to achieve an accurate diagnosis when experiencing gastrointestinal issues.

Researchers who conducted the study discussed above made it clear that patients should only be prescribed antibiotics once they have proven positive for SIBO via a lactulose hydrogen breath test (LHBT). It may therefore be helpful for individuals to seek an LHBT to establish whether bacterial overgrowth is causing irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

It is not fully understood what causes bacterial overgrowth in the gut, but the following conditions have also been linked with SIBO and may make individuals predisposed to bacterial overgrowth:

– Food poisoning
– Diabetes
– Hypothyroidism
– Bowel or bariatric surgery
– Low stomach acid
– Nerve damage in the gastrointestinal tract
– Frequent use of opiates

If you’ve noticed the onset of IBS symptoms after experiencing any of these conditions, it could be that SIBO is causing the problem. However, it is vital that appropriate tests are performed to make a firm diagnosis.

Treating Bacterial Overgrowth

Those who have been diagnosed with SIBO may be prescribed antibiotics to rectify the problem, but diet often plays an important role in recovery. Foods that can flare up bacterial overgrowth and cause inflammation in the gut include:

– Grains, such as corn, wheat, oats and rye
– Processed meat
– Milk and dairy products
– Starchy foods like potatoes, yams and rice
– Sugars other than those found in fruit and vegetables

It can often be helpful to avoid or reduce consumption of these foods to alleviate SIBO, but many IBS sufferers also find that similar diet changes can improve their symptoms too. Just remember that as with any major change to your diet, you should consult your doctor or nutritionist first to ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients you need.