If You Are Like Thousands of Others
If, like thousands of other people, and suffer from chronic pain and discomfort from something we have all heard of, then you might find some of the tips here helpful- that something is food. Does eating food make you feel bloated, give you diarrhea or irregular bowel movements, embarrassing gas, and frequent heartburn? No matter the degree to which you might be experiencing these symptoms, you were probably referred to a nutritionist who put you on a low-FODMAP diet . . . right? FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are irritants found in certain foods that some studies have indicated as an issue in ibs. As someone who followed the plan for several months, and who still uses this layout to an extent, I am able to give you a little insight.
Some of the Trademark Symptoms of SIBO
If you want to be successful in getting to the bottom of, and ultimately healing your digestive issues, it’s important to understand the root cause. While the number of potential causes are wide-ranging and varied, I’m going to focus on one specifically- it’s called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). This condition produces a methane gas in the gut, which can both irritate the gut lining (further aggravating ibs and underlying issues that probably existed before the methane did) with some major symptoms acting as its biggest indicators. These are as follows:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite (in severe cases)
- Weight gain (for others)
- Chronic feeling of being full
The Most Prominent Symptom
While some of the symptoms of SIBO cross with symptoms of ibs without SIBO, there is one trademark indicator, and that is bloating. Speaking from experience, and from other accounts I have heard from those suffering with the condition, bloating to the point of looking like you are ‘six months pregnant’ is not uncommon with this. Although difficult to diagnose due to the sheer number of potential causes that could be leading to ibs, the symptoms which is probably the single biggest indicator, in the case of SIBO, is bloating. Many people bloat to the point of chronically feeling full (which can of course lead to other problems, such as malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies), and this is oftentimes accompanied by excessive belching and gas. The extreme nature of this phenomenon can even lead to feeling nauseous, or full on vomiting, due to the abdomen being so extended. I have heard accounts of some people who have claimed to have had SIBO say, that they would often bloat to the point of feeling (and looking) six months pregnant, and could do nothing but lay on the couch for days. The bloating and heartburn can be chronic throughout the day, meaning that it has a life of its own, and thrives independently from anything you put in, depending on how long you have had it, and the time it has had to
completely take over your system (which, if left unattended, will eventually happen, mark my words!). SIBO does not go away on its own. Aggressive and long-lasting treatment is usually needed.
You Don't Need Your Doctor to Agree
If this sounds like it could be you, there are a couple of ways you can approach being tested. Before I provide links and resources, I’d just like to say that there is one thing you need to be prepared for, and that is, the skeptical attitude of your MD. Most MD’s will not get on the same page with you about getting tested for bacterial overgrowth. They aren't trained in this area and this type of information is foreign to them. It's not my opinion that every doctor out there is impossible to deal with; I'm simply saying that you should be prepared for a response that is not quite as enthusiastic as you might hope to receive. It's OKAY to disagree with your doctor, and insist on having the test done anyway. I've come across information which indicates the percentage of ibs sufferers with SIBO to be around 70%. Some MD's take on an open mentality in their clinical procedures, and make it a point to listen to all possibilities, even if they don't agree with a specific hypothesis, or their own background doesn't necessarily align to it. Again, that's OKAY. You only need this person as a channel to get you to the next level. You don't need them to agree with you or give you moral support.
Two Ways to Approach It
This said, there are a couple of ways you can approach ordering this test. The first one is to talk to your GI and simply have him or her order it, which is the easiest and most straightforward way. If you run into certain likely complications, however such as, for instance- there is no testing availability in your area, the doctor is unable or unwilling to order the test, or your insurance will not cover the exam, you can go to the site below. This link has resources to providers all over the country. Call the number listed. They offer in-home SIBO tests I believe, but there may be other options. In the case that your current GI is unable or unwilling to order it, you can use this method or you can go to the second link. The second website provides a database of GI doctors all over the U.S. and, if your current doctor doesn't work out for some reason, you could go here as backup (I have the Michigan doctor listings pulled up. You can punch any state in the search).
In addition to the conventional methane breath test, I've seen some naturopaths pick up on bacterial problems before they became an issue (such as those who specialize in NRT, or Nutritional Response Testing). Since they are usually only able to pick up on, and treat the condition before a person has the symptoms, this would not be the appropriate place for such information.
If you suspect that you are suffering from bacterial overgrowth such as SIBO, or another type of bacterial imbalance, based on the symptoms I listed here, the first thing you'll want to do is get the test to confirm it. As I said earlier, a Low FODMAP diet and nutritional advice from a specialist can be helpful, but dietary changes alone are often ineffective in the long run, depending on the underlying cause of the condition. I'm putting this information out there because bacterial imbalance issues are extremely common and are oftentimes overlooked- you will almost certainly overlook them if you are seeking help from a traditional GI or primary care physician. Insist on getting the test and take your health into your hands. In a future blog post I will discuss treatment options for SIBO, so you can check back here at a later date for more info (or research an option you think would work the best).
Before spending hundreds of dollars on supplements or coming up with a treatment option, though, do get the test. While I know of several great natural ways to treat bacterial issues, I can honestly say that the money you will spend on most of the programs out there is not worth what you'll put out, if the condition is not confirmed. Do your homework beforehand.