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Stomach Woes? Maybe It's Bacterial Overgrowth

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It’s not common for lots of bacteria to live in your small intestine, but when they do, those pesky microorganisms can cause bloating, gas, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

As with many medical conditions, there’s an acronym for it: SIBO, and in some circles, SBBO, standing for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and small bowel bacterial overgrowth.

Usually your digestive system has a steady supply of protective bacteria that guard against harmful bacteria. When the balance is upset, the small intestine sometimes reacts with symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There can be a number of reasons for SIBO, though, including:

- Antibiotics in your system.

- Decreased stomach acid secretion.

- Lowered production of digestive enzymes.

- Gastrointestinal blockages.

- Radiation therapy.

- Slow transit of food through your bowels.

- An outcome of conditions such as Crohn’s disease and diabetes.

A health care practitioner will want to help you take care of SIBO once it is diagnosed. Left untreated, it can lead to malnutrition because nutrients aren’t being absorbed sufficiently.

Also, researchers are looking into possible links between SIBO and the development of irritable bowel syndrome.

Since the symptoms are similar, doctors might decide to go after SIBO in ways that might relieve IBS problems. This includes changes in diet, strategies for reducing intestinal gas, certain medications, probiotics and stress-reduction techniques such as meditation and exercise.

Recently there has been a concern about the potential for SIBO among those taking proton pump inhibitors for gastroesophageal reflux, peptic ulcers and other digestive disorders. But a study from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona says such patients are not at any greater risk.

The study, reported in the February 14, 2012 online American Journal of Gastroenterology, looked at data for glucose hydrogen breath testing (GHBT) on 1,200 subjects, half of whom were on PPI regimens, to come to its conclusion.

By the way, hydrogen breath testing is a standard procedure in checking for SIBO, as well as for lactose intolerance.

As the Cleveland Clinic explains it, you blow into a balloon-type bag, and the lab then tests your breath for the presence of hydrogen, which is normally in very small quantities. Meanwhile, you drink a pleasant-tasting solution and the lab collects breath samples every 15 minutes for two hours.

The purpose is to detect any increase in hydrogen as the solution is digested. Too much hydrogen signals a problem.

Sometimes, though, no testing is needed, and your doctor might suspect SIBO based on your description of symptoms and your eating and bathroom habits. Then it’s time to attack those bad bacteria!


“Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth Overview.” Cleveland Clinic Health Information. Web. 7 March 2012. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/small_bowel_bacterial_overgrowth/dd_overview.aspx

“Proton Pump Inhibitor Therapy Use Does Not Predispose to Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth” (abstract). American Journal of Gastroenterology online. Web. 7 March 2012. http://www.nature.com/ajg/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/ajg20124a.html

“What I need to know about Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Web. 7 March 2012. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs_ez/index.aspx

“Lactose and Glucose Hydrogen Breath Test.” Cleveland Clinic Health Information. Web. 7 March 2012. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/lactose_intolerence/hic_lactose_and_glucose_hydrogen_breath_test.aspx

Reviewed March 8, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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EmpowHER Guest

I think that in many cases of IBS, it can be linked to an overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria and parasites. Dysbacteriosis can cause many alarming symptoms including: depression, weight gain, and chronic sinus infections...
Here's some more information on that:

March 8, 2012 - 12:33pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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