Irritable bowel syndrome: a review on the role of intestinal protozoa and the importance of their detection and diagnosis

Int J Parasitol. 2007 Jan;37(1):11-20. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2006.09.009. Epub 2006 Oct 12.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder in which abdominal pain is associated with a defect or a change in bowel habits. Gut inflammation is one of the proposed mechanisms of pathogenesis. Recent studies have described a possible role for protozoan parasites, such as Blastocystis hominis and Dientamoeba fragilis, in the etiology of IBS. Dientamoeba fragilis is known to cause IBS-like symptoms and has a propensity to cause chronic infections but its diagnosis relies on microscopy of stained smears, which many laboratories do not perform, thereby leading to the misdiagnosis of dientamoebiasis as IBS. The role of B. hominis as an etiological agent of IBS is inconclusive, due to contradictory reports and the controversial nature of B. hominis as a human pathogen. Although Entamoeba histolytica infections occur predominately in developing regions of the world, clinical diagnosis of amebiasis is often difficult because symptoms of patients with IBS may closely mimic those patients with non-dysenteric amoebic colitis. Clinical manifestations of Giardia intestinalis infection also vary from asymptomatic carriage to acute and chronic diarrhoea with abdominal pain. These IBS-like symptoms can be continuous, intermittent, sporadic or recurrent, sometimes lasting years without correct diagnosis. It is essential that all patients with IBS undergo routine parasitological investigations in order to rule out the presence of protozoan parasites as the causative agents of the clinical signs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blastocystis Infections / complications
  • Blastocystis Infections / diagnosis
  • Blastocystis Infections / parasitology
  • Blastocystis hominis / isolation & purification
  • Dientamoeba / isolation & purification
  • Dientamoebiasis / complications
  • Dientamoebiasis / diagnosis
  • Dientamoebiasis / parasitology
  • Dysentery, Amebic / complications
  • Dysentery, Amebic / diagnosis
  • Dysentery, Amebic / parasitology
  • Entamoeba histolytica / isolation & purification
  • Giardia lamblia / isolation & purification
  • Giardiasis / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases, Parasitic / complications
  • Intestinal Diseases, Parasitic / diagnosis*
  • Intestinal Diseases, Parasitic / parasitology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / complications
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / parasitology*
  • Protozoan Infections / complications
  • Protozoan Infections / diagnosis*