It’s called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO. It can be hard to diagnose, but it is treatable.

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Those days when you get a couple bad bouts of diarrhea, nausea or just no appetite can be rough and send you down the Google rabbit hole of intestinal issues. One of which may be SIBO. There’s a lot of questions around SIBO and it can be tricky to diagnose as well and is often confused with other GI issues, even with irritable bowel syndrome or IBS.

Says Dr. LeaAnn Chen assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “We don’t always know what causes it.” There is a test for SIBO and it is treatable.

What is SIBO?

Basically it is what happens when there’s an unusual increase in the overall amount of bacteria in the small intestine. And this bacteria is often the kind that aren’t normally found in that area of your GI tract. It’s often as a result of surgery or a disease that slows down food movement and waste.

While it’s not entirely clear why some people develop SIBO, aside from surgery where a foreign bacteria may enter your GI system, slow motilium as a result of narcotics, diabetes, or reduced acid from proton pump inhibitors are contributing factors. When food and waste slows down in your intestine, it gives the bad bacteria more time to grow and thus overpopulate in your system according to Dr. Askan Farhadi, a gastric specialist at Memorial Care Orange Coast Medical Centre in California.

Symptoms of SIBO

The actual symptoms can be vague at best and confused with other similar GI issues. According to the Mayo Clinic symptoms include;

  • Having no or less of an appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Feeling super full after you eat
  • Diarrhea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Malnutrition

There are a couple of testing options you can ask for or if your doctor wants to do a deeper dive;

  • A breath test. This test measures the amount of hydrogen or methane that you breathe out after you drink a mixture of glucose (a.k.a. sugar) and water. If you have a rapid increase in exhaled hydrogen or methane, it can suggest that you have a bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine. “The breath test is often used to distinguish between SIBO and IBS,” Dr. Chen says.
  • A culture from your small intestine. This test is more invasive but it’s considered the best option. To do it, doctors will pass a long, flexible tube down your throat and through your upper digestive tract to your small intestine. There, they’ll take a sample of your intestinal fluid and test it in a lab for bacterial overgrowth.

Treating SIBO

SIBO is most often treated with antibiotics and it may take a couple of rounds depending on how you respond. You may also need to change medications and your diet for a little while as that may help. 

You’ll definitely want to avoid sugary foods and ones with high carbohydrates, which also produce sugar in your body. Avoid processed foods as well. Some probiotics can replace the bad gut bacteria and increased fibre can help with your motilium to get things moving again. Lots of fruit and vegetables always helps too!

You might also enjoy this article on how to get back to healthy eating.

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