Many people experience intestinal dysfunction bringing with it discomfort such as abdominal pain, indigestion, bloating, and other gastrointestinal difficulties. Most accept these symptoms as a temporary inconvenience, but these common symptoms may actually indicate the presence of a significant chronic condition known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO.
Being able to recognize signs of SIBO is necessary for identifying and subsequently resolving this chronic condition of the gut.
What is SIBO?
The gut is one of the most important systems in the body and the small intestine plays a major role in its function. The bacterial microbiome found in the gut, which includes the small intestine, contains trillions of helpful bacteria. This important ecosystem influences essential elements of health including immune function, digestion, and thyroid activity. In healthy systems, the majority of bacteria is found in the large intestine and colon while the small intense maintains a relatively low level of bacteria. When harmful bacteria from the colon, large intestine, or elsewhere begin to encroach or over colonize the small intestine, the delicate bacterial balance can be overwhelmed. This development can lead to severe gastrointestinal disruption in the form of SIBO, which brings with it a broad collection of symptoms.
Because symptoms of SIBO are highly dependent on individual factors, some patients may experience severe gastrointestinal disruption while others report little to no symptoms. For this reason, SIBO often goes undiagnosed or is misidentified as another condition entirely. Below are some of the symptoms that may help you identify SIBO.
Common Signs of SIBO
SIBO presents many symptoms that may be misattributed to other gastrointestinal conditions. However, if you experience the following symptoms, it is important to consider the possibility of SIBO.
Digestive issues are a primary component of SIBO. One of the most common markers of digestive dysfunction, and potentially SIBO, is frequent and/or urgent diarrhea. This may be due to an overabundance of bacteria in the small intestine that aggressively consume foods thereby disrupting digestion. SIBO may also inhibit enzymes necessary for healthy carbohydrate breakdown, which can also contribute to diarrhea.
Physical Pain and Abdominal Bloating
An imbalance of bacteria in the small intestine can cause physical pain. SIBO may inhibit the transport of food through the small intestine, thereby reducing the speed of digestion. Foods that remain in the intestine act as a breeding ground for bacteria, which promotes the production of various gases and byproducts that expand against the intestinal wall. This causes bloating, pain, and distension that can worsen throughout the day.
Symptoms Consistent with IBS
It is unclear how much of the population suffers from SIBO but what is known is that individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are highly likely to have bacterial overgrowth in the gut. Some studies estimate that up to 80 percent of patients with IBS also have SIBO. Unfortunately, many individuals suffering from both conditions often do not get tested for SIBO and remain inappropriately undiagnosed.
Large amounts of bacteria present in the small intestine may cause a notable increase in gas. When bacteria feed on undigested foods, the carbohydrates ferment resulting in the production of hydrogen. Single celled organisms in the small intestine called archaea may consume excess hydrogen and produce another gas called methane. Greater prevalence of hydrogen and methane can lead to frequent flatulence, belching, and discomfort.
Nausea may be caused by overgrowth of bacteria and other substances such as yeast in the small intestine. When certain unwanted substances in the gut die off, they release previously contained toxins that can contribute significantly to the body’s toxic load. The sudden increase in toxicity often results in nausea. This indicates that harmful substances in the gut are dying off. However, this does not necessarily mean the condition is improving.
SIBO can significantly inhibit the body’s ability to acquire essential nutrients. When there is too much bacteria in the gut, foods may be broken down before the body is able to effectively absorb them. This can lead to an energy deficit even if an individual is consuming more food than usual. Alternatively, patients with SIBO may experience more frequent “food comas” after eating even moderately sized meals because SIBO may slow the digestive process.
Those with SIBO may experience unexpected weight loss. As the bacterial presence in the small intestine increase, the body becomes less capable of acquiring the nutrients and calories needed to effectively fuel the body. In such a situation, the body will likely begin to utilize stored energy in the form of fat or muscle. As the body continues to burn these resources, SIBO patients may notice a reduction in weight.
Less Recognized Symptoms of SIBO
People frequently recognize the physical signs of gastrointestinal dysfunction such as those mentioned above. However, SIBO may trigger symptoms that are more difficult to trace back to intestinal imbalances.
The gut is often referred to as the body’s second brain. This is because it houses an impressive network of neurons that influence a wide range of bodily functions. These neurons connect the enteric nervous system, responsible for regulating gut function, to the brain. Therefore, disruption of the gut in the form of SIBO may inappropriately trigger neurons resulting in neurological disruption. This can cause symptoms such as changes in mood and poor short-term memory.
The majority of the body’s immune system is housed within the gut. Therefore, disruption of systems such as the small intestine can result in notable disruption of immune function. If left unresolved SIBO may lead to the development of chronic autoimmune disorders such as fibromyalgia, autoimmune thyroid disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Stay on the Lookout for Signs of SIBO
It is not clear how many people are impacted by SIBO, but some studies estimate that between 6 and fifteen percent of the population suffer from a case of bacterial overgrowth. By arming yourself with the information presented above, you are better equipped to identify the warning signs of SIBO.
At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to provide you with cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to find the answers you deserve and a treatment plan that is personalized to your specific condition. If you are experiencing chronic gastrointestinal disruption and suspect you may have SIBO or if you’ve been diagnosed with SIBO, but aren’t getting the treatment you need, call us at 877-508-1177!
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