Bacterial Overgrowth Syndrome

Bacterial overgrowth syndrome is caused by the slowing down of intestinal movements facilitating the excess growth of normal bacteria inhabiting the intestines, resulting in malabsorption and diarrhea.

  • Diarrhea, weight loss and deficiency diseases are the usual symptoms, though it may remain asymptomatic in some people
  • The normal movement of the intestinal contents may become slow or completely stop due to certain conditions.
  • Typical symptoms displayed after undergoing certain surgeries lead to diagnosis.
  • Drug therapy with antibiotics helps recover from this condition.

The peristaltic movements of the intestines help move their contents at a steady pace, effectively keeping the bacterial population under control. When the movements of the intestines slow down or stop completely, the contents remain in the intestines for a longer period or they get accumulated in places, encouraging the excessive proliferation of bacteria. Certain surgeries involving the intestines or the stomach may temporarily stop the peristaltic movements. Amyloidosis, systemic sclerosis, and diabetes are some of the common causes for the slow movement of intestine and excess growth of bacteria.

The increased population of bacteria uses up the nutrients such as carbohydrates and vitamins derived from food. Not only that, it breaks down the bile salts produced by the liver, making the digestion and absorption of fats difficult, resulting in diarrhea and nutritional deficiencies.

Symptoms such as diarrhea and deficiency diseases are usually caused by this condition but in some cases, these symptoms may be absent or weight loss may be the only obvious symptom.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Bacterial Overgrowth Syndrome

The diagnosis is based on the symptoms which appear after abdominal surgeries involving the stomach and the intestines. Inserting a plastic tube into small intestine through the nose, a sample of the intestinal fluid is drawn and tested to confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes, another test called C-xylose breath test is conducted. A solution of slightly radioactive carbon-14 in combination with xylose sugar is swallowed, and later the breath is analyzed for free carbon-14 to determine the amount of xylose sugar used up by the bacterial populations.

Oral antibiotic therapy for a period of ten days to two weeks is usually sufficient to reduce the bacterial population. Nutritional supplements may be prescribed to compensate for the deficiencies which may have been caused by the condition.

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Yasser Elnahas

MD, PHD, Professor Of CardioVascular Surgery
Dr. Yasser Elnahas, Is an associate Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery. Dr. Elnahas was trained as a fellow At Texas Heart Institute And Mayo Clinic Foundation.Dr. Elnahas is dedicated to educating the general public about different disease conditions and simplifying the medical knowledge in an easy to understand terminology.

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