Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is not something you need to suffer with alone. Let's not be bashful or afraid of these three little letters that so many people share. You may think of it as a solitary strife you must face alone, but IBS, a disorder characterized by abdominal discomfort and altered bowel habits (constipation and diarrhea) affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States alone. Not hundred, not thousand—MILLION. This is a staggering number!
Now, I'm not saying you need to join a support group or declare your IBS on social media, but I'd certainly recommend opening yourself up to learning a bit more about the condition and its connection to SIBO (more on that in a bit). For years, many have blamed their IBS on stress, but it has been determined that while stress can worsen or trigger symptoms due to the connection between the brain and the gut, it is not a cause of IBS.
Studies show that over 50 percent of patients diagnosed with IBS actually have an underlying imbalance called SIBO , or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. In fact, the connection between SIBO and IBS has become a hot topic in the medical community over the last couple of years, as we continue to discover links between the two conditions. Here's why: the small and large intestines are full of bacteria, which we need to stay healthy. But when there is too much of the wrong kind of bacteria in the wrong place, symptoms such as those of IBS often arise.
SIBO occurs when the bacteria from the large intestine migrate and overgrow in the small intestine. When there is too much of these bacteria in the small bowel, they can damage and compete with your own body's small intestinal cells to absorb the nutrients from the food you are eating. When this happens, the bacteria end up producing large amounts of methane and hydrogen gas. If that's a bit too much doctor mumbo jumbo for you, here's the bottom line. If your body produces too much gas as a result of increased bacteria in the small bowel, this can cause symptoms conducive to IBS, including:
- Irritable bowel movements
- Frequent bouts of diarrhea, constipation, passing excess gas, heartburn, bloating and abdominal pain
- Symptoms of malabsorption, including weight loss, anemia or fatty stools
- Associated conditions such as fatigue, reflux, skin disorders, obesity or specific food intolerances or sensitivities
Traditionally, breath tests have been used as the standard method of diagnosing SIBO. This method calls for exhaustive dietary restriction and cumbersome collection protocols for patients, often making the accuracy of this test questionable. Because SIBO is a notoriously challenging disorder to diagnose, due in part to the fact that its signs and symptoms can be confused with many other conditions, a simple confirmatory blood test would be optimal.
If you have any of the above-mentioned signs or symptoms and suspect that you could be suffering from SIBO connected to IBS, testing is highly recommended as it may help you identify triggers. Talk to your health care professional about the symptoms you are experiencing and the option of being tested. There are antibiotic and herbal remedies along with diet protocols for the treatment of SIBO. But the first step to recovery of a health issue is diagnosing the underlying condition. In good health!