Review article: the role of antibiotics vs. conventional pharmacotherapy in treating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome

Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Jun 1;25(11):1271-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2007.03313.x.


Background: The concept of augmenting the management of irritable bowel syndrome with antibiotics is evolving, and many questions remain regarding this therapy relative to known and hypothesized irritable bowel syndrome pathophysiology. The clinical evidence of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth as an important aetiology of irritable bowel syndrome continues to accumulate. Clinical symptoms of bacterial overgrowth and irritable bowel syndrome are similar; however, a definitive cause-and-effect relationship remains unproven. It is unclear whether motility dysfunction causes bacterial overgrowth or gas products of enteric bacteria affect intestinal motility in irritable bowel syndrome.

Aim: To discusses the efficacy and tolerability of current symptom-directed pharmacotherapies and of antibiotics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.

Methods: A computerized search of PubMed was performed with search terms "IBS", "pharmacotherapy" and "antibiotics". Relevant articles were selected, and the reference list of selected articles was reviewed to identify additional references.

Results: Antibiotic treatment benefits a subset of irritable bowel syndrome patients. The non-absorbed antibiotic rifaximin has a favourable safety and tolerability profile compared with systemic antibiotics and demonstrates a therapeutic efficacy comparable with symptom-based irritable bowel syndrome pharmacotherapies.

Conclusion: Rifaximin is the only antibiotic with demonstrated sustained benefit beyond therapy cessation in irritable bowel syndrome patients in a placebo-controlled trial. Whether antibiotics can improve quality of life in patients with irritable bowel syndrome warrants further research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Antidiarrheals / therapeutic use
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Parasympatholytics / therapeutic use
  • Rifamycins / therapeutic use
  • Rifaximin
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Antidiarrheals
  • Cathartics
  • Gastrointestinal Agents
  • Parasympatholytics
  • Rifamycins
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Rifaximin