Objectives: Irritable bowel syndrome is the most common gastrointestinal diagnosis. The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are similar to those of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. The purpose of this study was to test whether overgrowth is associated with irritable bowel syndrome and whether treatment of overgrowth reduces their intestinal complaints.
Methods: Two hundred two subjects in a prospective database of subjects referred from the community undergoing a lactulose hydrogen breath test for assessment of overgrowth were Rome I criteria positive for irritable bowel syndrome. They were treated with open label antibiotics after positive breath test. Subjects returning for follow-up breath test to confirm eradication of overgrowth were also assessed. Subjects with inflammatory bowel disease, abdominal surgery, or subjects demonstrating rapid transit were excluded. Baseline and after treatment symptoms were rated on visual analog scales for bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, defecation relief, mucous, sensation of incomplete evacuation, straining, and urgency. Subjects were blinded to their breath test results until completion of the questionnaire.
Results: Of 202 irritable bowel syndrome patients, 157 (78%) had overgrowth. Of these, 47 had follow-up testing. Twenty-five of 47 follow-up subjects had eradication of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Comparison of those that eradicated to those that failed to eradicate revealed an improvement in irritable bowel syndrome symptoms with diarrhea and abdominal pain being statistically significant after Bonferroni correction (p < 0.05). Furthermore, 48% of eradicated subjects no longer met Rome criteria (chi2 = 12.0, p < 0.001). No difference was seen if eradication was not successful.
Conclusions: Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Eradication of the overgrowth eliminates irritable bowel syndrome by study criteria in 48% of subjects.