Is IBS Real? The Truth Behind Your Diagnosis
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common disorder diagnosed by gastroenterologists, affecting an estimated 25 to 40 million people in the U.S. alone. Women are at even higher risk than men, making up roughly two-thirds of all IBS patients. IBS accounts for up to 12% of primary care visits (that’s 2.4 and 3.5 million visits every year!) and costs society around $21 billion annually in medical expenses and lost productivity.1 Given these statistics, it would seem that we were in the midst of an IBS epidemic! However, what if I were to tell you that at least half of all IBS cases are misdiagnosed?
SIBO or IBS?
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is a condition in which the bacteria in your small intestine get out of balance and overgrow.
Symptoms of SIBO can include:
- Gas, bloating, and diarrhea
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Constipation (much less common than diarrhea)
- Food intolerances such as gluten, casein, lactose, fructose, and particularly histamine intolerance
- Chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, neuromuscular disorders and autoimmune diseases
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, including vitamins A, B12, D, and E
- Fat malabsorption (signified by pale, bulky, and malodorous stools)
- Rosacea and other skin rashes
- Leaky gut
As you can see, many of these symptoms are very similar to IBS symptoms, which typically include frequent diarrhea, constipation—or both—gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. These similarities help explain the high rate of misdiagnosis in patients with SIBO.
It is a common misconception that only a small percentage of the population has SIBO–for example, those with motility issues or abnormal gastrointestinal tract anatomy. However, between the growing awareness of SIBO as a medical diagnosis and new testing options becoming more widely available, the prevalence of SIBO has increased dramatically–specifically in patients previously diagnosed with IBS.3
Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Diagnosis By Exclusion
So how does conventional medicine get it so wrong? Irritable bowel syndrome is what is known as a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that after extensive lab testing, studies, and procedures, everything comes back normal and so by process of elimination your doctors diagnose you with IBS. The problem with this method is that many doctors simply do not test for SIBO and because the symptoms of SIBO and IBS are so similar, you end up with a faulty diagnosis.
This also calls into question whether the condition we call “IBS” is even real. There is no test for IBS–doctors merely look at your symptoms and rule out any other diseases they can test for. “Irritable bowel syndrome” is just a name given to a collection of symptoms that doctors have no medical explanation for. Because of this, conventional medicine focuses on managing the symptoms of the disease, usually with unnecessary prescriptions and invasive surgeries. Often, even these harsh treatments provide no relief. It can be extremely frustrating as a patient to be put through a battery of tests and procedures, only to be given no answers and STILL have your symptoms persist.
SIBO, on the other hand, CAN be diagnosed with testing. In fact, many people diagnosed with IBS are found to have an abnormal hydrogen breath test and their symptoms resolve completely after implementing simple dietary and lifestyle changes. 4
What to Do if Your IBS is Really SIBO
If you’ve been treated for IBS and have not seen an improvement in your symptoms, it’s quite possible that SIBO is at the root of your GI issues. I recommend getting a SIBO breath test so you can find out for sure and start treating the underlying cause.
Should you test positive for SIBO, you can use the following steps to overcome this gut infection and finally say goodbye to digestive distress:
Step 1: Starve the Overgrown Bacteria
Certain foods you eat feed bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine. To starve out the excess bacteria, you’ll need to eliminate sugar, alcohol, and carbohydrates from your diet. This includes refined carbs, such as bread, cookies, and cake, as well as complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and legumes. Ultimately these foods are broken down into sugar in your gut, which feed the bacteria.
Step 2: Prune the Bacteria
The next step in overcoming SIBO is to get the overgrown bacteria back under control. The most common treatment is antibiotics–either Xifaxan or Neomyacin, depending on whether you have more methane or more hydrogen in your system (see this article for further explanation of the two types of gas). Xifaxan is more effective with hydrogen-dominant SIBO while Neomyacin tends to be more successful with methane-dominant SIBO.
If you are looking for a more natural route or are treating SIBO at home, I recommend Microb-Clear™, a blend of herbal extracts that work to “prune” the overgrown bacteria more gently than antibiotics, thus preserving more of your good bacteria.
Step 3: Restore Your Good Bacteria
Finally, you will restore the good bacteria in your gut to support a strong immune system, as well as optimal digestion and nutrient absorption. When it comes to SIBO you have to be careful, however, because most probiotics out there will actually add more fuel to the fire. That’s because overgrown bacteria in your small intestine tend to be lactobacillus or bifidobacterium, which are the same strains used in standard probiotics. Though these probiotics can be very helpful to those who don’t have SIBO, while treating this infection you’ll want to stick with a soil-based probiotic such as Primal Earth™.
Primal Earth™ contains three well-studied strains protected that have seed-like structures to help them bypass the harsh conditions of the small intestine and head straight to the colon and large intestine, where your good bacteria should be! This will ensure you are not feeding the overgrowth while still supporting your gut’s thriving ecosystem of friendly microflora!
The Functional Medicine Approach to Irritable Bowel Syndrome
I know from experience just how frustrating it can be to seek help and healing from your doctors, only to find no answers and simply have your symptoms “managed” with pills or procedures. Conventional medicine failed me, and it is my mission to not let it fail you too.™ That’s why I started practicing functional medicine, which seeks to address the root cause of an issue instead of throwing prescriptions at the problem.
If you are one of the millions of people with an IBS diagnosis who have yet to find relief from uncomfortable gas, bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, I encourage you to take your health into your own hands and get tested for SIBO. This could be the answer to all of your digestive woes.
By getting to the root of your IBS and treating SIBO, you can overcome your embarrassing and painful symptoms, and once again enjoy going out to eat with friends or even just being out of the house for a few hours without wondering where the nearest bathroom is. You can reclaim your health and live a symptom-free, vibrant life!