Let's Talk SIBO
SIBO is the acronym for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, something commonly experienced by those with Crohn's, yet often misdiagnosed or overlooked.
What is SIBO?
SIBO occurs when there is an increase in the overall population of bacteria in the small intestine – many of which that don't belong there – that is caused by a disease or surgery that can slow the passage of food and waste, thus providing the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.1
Some common symptoms of SIBO are gas and bloating, abdominal pain, feeling of fullness after eating small amounts of food, and diarrhea. While most of these symptoms are experienced often while living with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, you may consider being tested for SIBO if these symptoms are extreme and/or you are experiencing several simultaneously.1
My first experience with SIBO
My first bout with SIBO was in 2012, but I suffered with symptoms for several weeks before receiving a proper diagnosis. I remember sitting in a review course for a licensing exam, getting a sudden pain in the middle of my abdomen between my ribs.
I leaned into the table, thinking applying pressure to the area would make the pain go away. Tears filling my eyes, I whispered to myself, "Please pain, go away," repeatedly. Eventually, the pain subsided.
Fortunately, the little store in the lobby of the hotel where the course was being held had Tums, so I took a handful during our break and the pain subsided for the remainder of the day.
Is my Crohn's disease medication not working?
This pain rushed upon me at least once a day for the next 5 consecutive days before I called my GI to schedule an appointment. It was first thought that my latest biologic, Humira, wasn't working. So she put me on prednisone.
However, the day after my appointment, her office called to say that a lab slip was submitted for me to get a "SIBO test" done at my convenience, but better sooner than later.
Getting tested for SIBO
The test for SIBO isn't terrible, especially compared to other tests such as MRIs or CT scans with contrast. You drink about 2 ounces of a sweet liquid and proceed to blow into tiny bags that they give you over the course of 3 hours. Simple enough.
They offered me a comfortable chair, a television, and the WiFi password so I could do work while I waited. There were no pre-testing drugs or copious amounts of thick liquid to ingest. It was straightforward, and the test results come back relatively quickly.
Doctors can overlook SIBO as a possibility
I'd say the worst part is the time commitment, but the results are well worth it. I honestly think I let out an audible sigh of relief when my GI called to say that the test results came back positive. Our question was answered. Once confirmed that I had SIBO, I was put on an antibiotic and noticed the relief almost immediately.
I am grateful that my GI decided to test me for SIBO, which required a simple treatment and put an end to my excruciating pain. However, many physicians overlook the possibility of SIBO and treat the patient as if the current biologic isn't working.
Speaking up as Crohn's disease and UC patients
It is worth mentioning testing for SIBO to your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms and not seeing any relief from your current treatment methods. Don't be afraid to speak up and get to the root of your ailments, as it could be one simple course of antibiotics that takes away the pain you don't have to feel.
How open are you about being diagnosed with IBD?