AGA Clinical Practice Update on Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth: Expert Review

Gastroenterology. 2020 Oct;159(4):1526-1532. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2020.06.090. Epub 2020 Jul 15.


Description: Thanks to ready access to hydrogen breath testing, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is now commonly diagnosed among individuals presenting with a variety of gastrointestinal and even nongastrointestinal symptoms and is increasingly implicated in lay press and media in the causation of a diverse array of disorders. Its definition, however, remains controversial and true prevalence, accordingly, undefined. The purpose of this review, therefore, was to provide a historical background to the concept of SIBO, critically review current concepts of SIBO (including symptomatology, pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnosis and treatment), define unanswered questions and provide a road map toward their resolution.

Methods: Best Practice Advice statements were developed following discussion by the 3 authors. Two authors each developed text around certain Best Practice Advice based on a review of available literature. All 3 authors reviewed the complete draft and after discussion, redrafting, and further review and revision, all of the authors agreed on a final draft. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 1: The definition of SIBO as a clinical entity lacks precision and consistency; it is a term generally applied to a clinical disorder where symptoms, clinical signs, and/or laboratory abnormalities are attributed to changes in the numbers of bacteria or in the composition of the bacterial population in the small intestine. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 2: Symptoms traditionally linked to SIBO include bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain/discomfort. Steatorrhea may be seen in more severe cases. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 3: There is insufficient evidence to support the use of inflammatory markers, such as fecal calprotectin to detect SIBO. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 4: Laboratory findings can include elevated folate and, less commonly, vitamin B-12 deficiency, or other nutritional deficiencies. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 5: A major impediment to our ability to accurately define SIBO is our limited understanding of normal small intestinal microbial populations-progress in sampling technology and techniques to enumerate bacterial populations and their metabolic products should provide much needed clarity. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 6: Controversy remains concerning the role of SIBO in the pathogenesis of common functional symptoms, such as those regarded as components of irritable bowel syndrome. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 7: Management should focus on the identification and correction (where possible) of underlying causes, correction of nutritional deficiencies, and the administration of antibiotics. This is especially important for patients with significant maldigestion and malabsorption. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 8: Although irritable bowel syndrome has been shown to respond to therapy with a poorly absorbed antibiotic, the role of SIBO or its eradication in the genesis of this response warrants further confirmation in randomized controlled trials. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 9: There is a limited database to guide the clinician in developing antibiotic strategies for SIBO, in any context. Therapy remains, for the most part, empiric but must be ever mindful of the potential risks of long-term broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blind Loop Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Blind Loop Syndrome / etiology
  • Blind Loop Syndrome / therapy*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Symptom Assessment