Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth

Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth

Colorado’s Premier Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth Experts

Your small intestine is the longest segment of your digestive system. Food is broken down into liquids within the small intestine or small bowel, and most nutrients are absorbed. When too many bacteria, or even the wrong kind of bacteria, populate your bowel, it can lead to small bowel bacterial overgrowth. The professionals at Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology Associates provide unrivaled care to patients throughout Colorado, including issues such as small bowel bacterial overgrowth. Each clinical team member is highly-trained and ready to handle all aspects of care to ensure you get the treatment you deserve. Our dedication to our patients has elevated us to the leading gastroenterology clinic in the state. Discover how we can help with your small bowel bacterial overgrowth today.

What is Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth?

Small bowel bacterial overgrowth is when the normal bacteria in your small intestine are overgrown, and the facts that maintain balance, like your gut flora, aren’t working as intended. It’s considered normal and healthy to have bacteria in your small bowel, but having too much bacteria can lead to issues with your digestion. Harmful bacteria can overwhelm any good and beneficial bacteria that must be there. Your small intestine cannot process, and high numbers of bacteria can lead to symptoms and complications.

What Causes Small Intestine Bacteria to Occur?

Your body’s digestive system maintains a strict balance of flora and bacteria in your gut through complex chemical and mechanical functions. For small bowel bacterial overgrowth to occur, one or more of these vital functions must fail or not work correctly. Some chemicals that help control the flora and bacteria in your small bowel include gastric acid, bile, enzymes, and immunoglobulins. Different conditions can inhibit the use of these chemicals. Another vital cleaning mechanism is emptying food from the small intestine into the large intestine. When this function is slowed or impaired, it can allow bacteria to breed and create additional complications. Take a look at some additional causes of small bowel bacterial overgrowth:

  • Low Stomach Acid – Low stomach acid reduces your body’s ability to moderate and control bacterial growth.
  • Small Intestine Dysmotility – Small intestine dysmotility means that waste is held too long in your small intestine before moving into the large intestine. When this happens, tiny bowel bacteria continue to multiply and can lead to complications.
  • Structural Issues With Your Small Intestine – Any issues with the structure of your small bowel can inhibit motility, and any nooks and crannies can allow bacteria to accumulate. These can issues can be caused by issues such as small bowel obstructions.

Different Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth Symptoms

Most small bowel bacterial overgrowth symptoms can resemble other gastrointestinal issues, and it’s not uncommon for other issues to be mistaken for bacterial overgrowth. We’ve compiled some of the more common symptoms associated with small bowel bacterial overgrowth symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, we recommend giving us a call. Here are some small bowel bacterial overgrowth symptoms:

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Abdominal Distension
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Indigestion
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Unexpected Weight Loss
  • Fatigue

Is Small Intestine Bacteria Common?

Most studies have determined that up to 80% of patients who suffer from issues such as irritable bowel syndrome also suffer from small bowel bacterial overgrowth. Beyond those specific patients, data among healthy patients is unknown. It’s safe to assume this issue goes underdiagnosed. Minor to mild cases are often asymptomatic, while moderate cases have symptoms that often overlap with other gastrointestinal issues. Small bowel bacterial overgrowth issues often go untested. If you’re concerned you may be suffering from bacterial overgrowth, we’ll help.

Foods that Trigger Symptoms

Food isn’t necessarily a direct cause of small bowel bacterial overgrowth, but certain foods encourage the growth of harmful bacteria. Continuing to consume these foods could cause the growth of bacteria and trigger minor intestinal bacteria symptoms. Depending on your circumstances, we may recommend dietary changes to help reduce symptoms and combat harmful bacteria growth. Here are some foods that can encourage the growth of harmful bacteria:

  • Sugars and Sweeteners
  • Fruits and Starchy Vegetables
  • Dairy Products
  • Grains

How We Diagnose Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth

As mentioned, small bowel bacterial growth symptoms align with other gastrointestinal complications. Small intestinal bacteria may not be the first thing we suspect when testing. However, if you have a history of this illness or your symptoms perfectly align, we may recommend undergoing a breath test to verify. A breath test is a simple, non-invasive test that measures a patient’s hydrogen and/or methane levels to determine if gas-producing bacteria are present in the intestinal system. If your levels reach a particular benchmark, it suggests the presence of bacteria. Here are some other ways we diagnose small bowel bacterial overgrowth:

  • Blood Tests – These tests determine if there are vital or blood protein deficiencies.
  • Stool Test – Stool tests check to see if there are excess undigested fats or bile acids. This could indicate an abundance of harmful bacteria.
  • Small Bowel Aspirate and Culture – This is the gold standard for testing for small bowel bacterial overgrowth. Our professionals will perform an endoscopy to retrieve a tissue sample from your small intestine. That sample is then tested to see what type of bacteria is present.

Take Advantage of Our Small Intestine Bacteria Treatments

Small bowel bacterial overgrowth can be difficult to treat due to symptoms mimicking other complications. Most cases are asymptomatic, making it difficult to seek treatment when needed. While it poses a challenge, several treatment options are available. One of the more options is antibiotics. It’s not uncommon for small intestine bacteria to return several months after completing your round of antibiotics. This is especially true if you have existing issues that often lead to bacterial overgrowth. We recommend addressing the underlying cause. It’s often easier to actively manage a secondary medical issue than short gut syndrome. Here are some other treatments available for small bowel bacteria overgrowth:

  • Probiotics and Fecal Microbiota Transplants – Studies on these solutions are undecided, but anecdotal evidence suggests they may be beneficial. A fecal microbiota transplant is a new treatment that involves a medical professional transplanting a donor’s gut flora into your small bowel. This procedure has produced some mixed results and is currently under review by the FDA.
  • Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth Diet – We’ve briefly touched on this treatment. Diets do not cure small bowel bacterial overgrowth, but they can help avoid and lessen symptoms. A low FODMAP diet is one of the more popular diets to treat this disorder. The low FODMAP diet limits the intake of fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These have been known to not break down in the human intestinal tract, which allows bacteria to feed and grow. Limiting foods high in these may reduce gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. This is a complex diet that often results in significant dietary changes. We recommend working with a professional dietitian for assistance.

What Happens if It’s Left Untreated?

If this issue is left untreated, you may experience common symptoms such as gas and bloating, abdominal pain, and distention. After enough time, small bowel bacterial overgrowth will lead to severe issues and long-term consequences. These include malabsorption of fats, specific proteins, and carbohydrates can lead to malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. If there is a vitamin B12 deficiency, you may experience issues with your nervous system or anemia. Other issues result from poor calcium absorption, such as long-term osteoporosis or kidney stones.

Schedule Your Small Intestine Bacteria Screening Today

If you’ve been suffering from gastrointestinal issues such as bloating and gas, indigestion, and cramping, we understand that you may have attempted to self-diagnose the issue. Most small bowel bacterial overgrowth symptoms overlap with other gastrointestinal issues, making it difficult to diagnose accurately. Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology Associates will help diagnose the issue while recommending effective treatment options. For some patients, a lifestyle and diet change is needed. Small bowel bacterial overgrowth is a complication that causes long-lasting complications if left untreated. Don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation if you’re experiencing these symptoms or are concerned you may have the disorder. We’ll work with you to determine the best treatment plan while giving you your peace of mind back.

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