Update on New IBS Treatment

There may be a new answer for a very common gastrointestinal disorder called irritable bowel syndrome. The answer: an antibiotic. A new study just released shows perhaps treating bacterial overgrowth of the intestines with an antibiotic might help. Kim Williams has suffered tremendously from irritable bowel syndrome--a disease that doesn’t kill, it doesn’t cause life-changing disability--except for making one a slave to his or her bathroom. “I’ve had days while having I.B.S. that I couldn’t go to work or I couldn’t go to school because i didn’t know if I could make it to my destination because I didn’t know if I could find a bathroom,” says Kim. Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by abdominal pain and bloating associated with diarrhea, constipation, or these two alternating.

These patients often feel better after going to the bathroom. Now, the actual cause of irritable bowel syndrome is still truly unknown. It’s believed there is altered motility of the intestines, and that these patients are just much more sensitive to contractions. But there is a relatively new concept out there…that bacterial overgrowth of the small intestines might contribute to the problem.

This new study looks at an antibiotic called rifaximin, which stays in the gut and does not get absorbed into the rest of the body’s systems. After taking it three times a day for ten days, patients reported they felt better overall, and specifically, they reported less bloating. But some experts say this is not a perfect answer by any means.

 “The three main symptoms that define irritable bowel syndrome are abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea, and patients who read about this study should understand that none of those three symptoms improved in this report with taking this antibiotic,” says Dr. Charles Gerson, a gastroenterologist at Mt. Sinai Medical Center.

Dr. Gerson believes you have to treat I.B.S. with perhaps medication but also by addressing the psychological component. “The end point of the study was only ten weeks after the beginning. And I.B.S. is a long term chronic illness and you have to see what these patients are lie in a year,” states Dr. Gerson.

 True. Yet, this study showed the antibiotic’s beneficial effects remained for ten weeks, after only ten days of therapy--implying there is something beneficial occurring. Kim has gotten relief from a different medication; in her mind, just getting better whatever it takes is the goal. “I’ve done wonderfully I’ve had no side effects. I feel great now,” says Kim.

 Dr. Gerson does express concern over taking an antibiotic for this, that bacteria might develop resistance to it and then it will lose effectiveness. This is potentially a problem, but the good news is, this is not an antibiotic that is used for systemic illness. It is used for other conditions, such as traveler’s diarrhea, and Crohn’s disease.


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