Is irritable bowel syndrome an infectious disease?

World J Gastroenterol. 2016 Jan 28;22(4):1331-4. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v22.i4.1331.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common of all gastroenterological diseases. While many mechanisms have been postulated to explain its etiology, no single mechanism entirely explains the heterogeneity of symptoms seen with the various phenotypes of the disease. Recent data from both basic and clinical sciences suggest that underlying infectious disease may provide a unifying hypothesis that better explains the overall symptomatology. The presence of small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO) has been documented in patients with IBS and reductions in SIBO as determined by breath testing correlate with IBS symptom improvement in clinical trials. The incidence of new onset IBS symptoms following acute infectious gastroenteritis also suggests an infectious cause. Alterations in microbiota-host interactions may compromise epithelial barrier integrity, immune function, and the development and function of both central and enteric nervous systems explaining alterations in the brain-gut axis. Clinical evidence from treatment trials with both probiotics and antibiotics also support this etiology. Probiotics appear to restore the imbalance in the microflora and improve IBS-specific quality of life. Antibiotic trials with both neomycin and rifaximin show improvement in global IBS symptoms that correlates with breath test normalization in diarrhea-predominant patients. The treatment response to two weeks of rifaximin is sustained for up to ten weeks and comparable results are seen in symptom reduction with retreatment in patients who develop recurrent symptoms.

Keywords: Antibiotics; Etiology; Infectious disease; Irritable bowel syndrome; Pathopohysiology; Probiotics.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Dysbiosis
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / drug effects
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Intestines / drug effects
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Intestines / physiopathology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / microbiology*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / therapy
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use
  • Remission Induction
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents