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The Link Between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Bacteria
For the first time, an abundance of bacteria in the gut has been positively linked to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in a study at Cedars-Sinai. Researchers examined cultures taken from the intestine of patients suffering from the condition. Although it’s been more than 10 years since it was hypothesized that bacteria plays a role in the disease, this is the first study to use the so-called gold standard method to connect the two.
Studies in the past have shown that bacteria plays some role in IBS through the use of breath tests that detect methane, which is a byproduct of the fermentation of bacteria in the gut. This study used actual bacterial cultures, a much more definitive link.
The study was published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences and looked at samples of small bowel cultures taken from patients to confirm small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, in over 320 patients. More than 30% of patients with IBS tested positive for SIBO, while less than 10% of those without the disorder had the overgrowth. Over 60% of those with diarrhea-prominent IBS, on the other hand, had the overgrowth of bacteria.
According to the author of the study, this study underscores that antibiotics can successfully treat IBS. Years ago, treatments for the disorder focused on lessening symptoms. Patients who took rifaximin, however, found symptom relief even after they discontinued use of the medication. This study shows that, once and for all, antibiotics truly are the best possible treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.
What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the United States and currently affects over 30 million individuals. Symptoms of the condition include constipation, diarrhea, painful abdominal bloating or alternating patterns of diarrhea and constipation. Some patients also experience abdominal cramps that’s aggravated by meals and excessive gas. These symptoms tend to get worse with stress. A great deal of patients with this disorder avoid social functions because of their symptoms. While not life-threatening, the condition can increase the likelihood of developing additional colon problems such as colon cancer, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. This chronic condition also results in a reduction in the sufferer’s quality of life.
There is no lab test to diagnose IBS, so your health care provider must run other tests to rule out other diseases and conditions, such as:
• food allergies and intolerances
• an infection
• enzyme deficiencies that cause the pancreas to produce insufficient enzymes to digest food
• inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease
• medications like antacids and high blood pressure medications
A complete history and exam must also take place to make sure structural and metabolic conditions aren’t causing the symptoms. Other tests may include:
• blood tests for anemia, thyroid issues and infection
• upper endoscopy if heartburn accompanies the symptoms
• colonoscopy to check for inflammation and intestinal obstruction
• stool tests for infection or blood
• tests for gluten allergy or lactose intolerance
• tests for bowel motility issues