Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO): What You Need to Know

By now, you may have heard the term SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. It was thought to be an uncommon occurrence, but it has currently become more widely recognized by the medical field, especially in functional medicine and alternative health practices.

SIBO is described as an overgrowth of bacteria that normally is found in the gastrointestinal tract but has abnormally overgrown in the small intestine. We are only meant to have a very small amount of bacteria in the small intestine. Bacteria in the small intestine will ferment or digest food before it can be utilized by the host, causing the production of hydrogen or methane gases which then cause symptoms to occur.

Symptoms of SIBO

Symptoms of SIBO can vary greatly from less symptomatic to more severe symptoms that will largely affect everyday quality of life. Symptoms can include flatulence, bloating, abdominal cramping, diarrhea and/or constipation, heartburn, nausea and others.

If left untreated, it can lead to nutrient deficiencies (including vitamins A and D), damage to the intestinal tract, food allergies and sensitivities, chronic fatigue, and body pain, to name a few. Those will have diverse symptoms and repercussions of their own, such as neurological and cognitive issues.

SIBO is often mistaken for IBS, and over half of all SIBO cases also have IBS. In fact, SIBO can cause IBS.

There are some high-risk factors that can lead to developing SIBO, and if you have any of the following symptoms, you might suspect SIBO:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s
  • Diabetes
  • Low stomach acid or hypochlorhydria
  • Repeated use of antibiotics and or acid blockers (PPIs)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Having had bowel surgery
  • Moderate to heavy alcohol use
  • Having had food poisoning or GI infection
  • Slow gut motility
  • Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue

How to Test for SIBO

Unfortunately, a stool test can’t detect SIBO. The best way to test for SIBO is to do a non-invasive breath test. It’s inexpensive and fairly easy to do. At the present, the testing can show whether the bacteria is hydrogen or methane-producing. A test to detect for sulfur-producing bacteria is in the works and should be out soon.

How to Treat SIBO

If the testing is positive, there are several different ways your practitioner may choose to treat you. In most cases, the recommended treatment is either by specific antibiotic use and/or herbal and a diet protocol. However, all recommended treatments will be very individualized. Protocols would be discussed before the treatment, and the best option for the patient will be decided upon.

As part of the treatment, it is also very important to correct the underlying causes and address any nutritional support that is needed. This approach is necessary to avoid recurrence of SIBO in the future.

If you would like to setup an appointment to get tested for SIBO, or would like to develop a customized approach to treat the condition, contact the Feely Center today.

Dr. Richard Feely

Author Dr. Richard Feely

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