Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth

Dr. Suresh K. Mahajan

Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain are common symptoms of several disorders of the colon, including irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease. But those symptoms also can signal a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, says Suresh Mahajan, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff of Southwest General.

“Normally there is a lot of bacteria in the colon, or large intestine, but there should be much less in the small intestine,” Dr. Mahajan explains. “Small intestine bacterial overgrowth occurs when an abnormal motility or an alteration in the anatomy of the gastrointestinal tract leads to overgrowth of bacteria in the upper GI tract.”

Here, Dr. Mahajan explains more about small intestinal bacterial disorder.

Q. What causes small intestinal bacterial overgrowth?
A. It can be caused by anything that changes the anatomy of the GI tract, or any condition that alters the natural movements of the digestive system.

Q. Is the condition serious?
A. Usually the symptoms of the small intestinal bacterial overgrowth cause discomfort and inconvenience. In some cases it also will interfere with the absorption of food and result in malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, and weight loss.

Q. How is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth diagnosed?
A. The best way is a breath test that is done in the doctor’s office. Bacteria in the small intestine produce methane and hydrogen gas from sugars. Those gasses are expelled through the breath. For the breath test, the patient ingests a sugar like glucose or lactulose, then exhales into a bag. Breath samples are taken for as long as three hours to test for the presence of hydrogen or methane.

Q. How is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth treated?
A. There are several kinds of antibiotics that are given to kill the bacteria. We are careful about giving antibiotics because people can become resistant to them. Patients who take antibiotics for a different condition usually report that their abdominal symptoms went away during that time.

You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Mahajan by calling 440-816-2789. His office is located at Southwest General Health Center, 7255 Old Oak Blvd., Suite C101, in Middleburg Heights.