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Antibiotic found to be effective in treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Antibiotic found to be effective in treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome Benefit continues weeks after treatment ends

US scientists have developed a new antibiotic therapy which has proven effective in combating the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Crucially this new drug continues to provide relief from IBS after the treatment has ended, unlike most other therapies.

The semi-synthetic antibiotic, named Rifaximin, is actually poorly absorbed by the body. This means that it will remain in the gut for weeks after treatment, hence the long lasting effect noted in the study.

IBS is a chronic condition affecting the bowels. Its exact causes are unknown, but some have suggested that it may be due to bacteria in the gut. This new study tends to uphold this idea, as the researchers suggest it is the action of the antibiotic on the bacteria that provides the relief from the symptoms.

Commenting on the results, study leader Mark Pimentel of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said: "For years, the treatment options for IBS patients have been extremely limited. IBS often does not respond well to treatments currently available, such as dietary changes and fibre supplements alone."

"With this antibiotic treatment, the patients feel better, and they continue to feel better after stopping the drug. This means that we did something to strike at the cause of the disease" he continued.

The study involved two trials of over 600 patients in which the participants were given either the drug or a placebo, chosen at random. Neither the patients or the doctors providing the treatment knew which option was being administered (a "double-blind" trial). The treatment was given three times a day for two weeks.

About 40 per cent of patients who took the drug reported they had significant relief from bloating, abdominal pain and loose or watery stools. Further, that relief was sustained for weeks after they stopped taking the antibiotic.

Because the cause of the disease had been elusive, treatments for the disease historically have focused on relieving its symptoms with medications that either slow or speed up the digestive process. Earlier research by Pimentel and colleagues documents a link between bloating, the most common symptom, and bacterial fermentation in the gut related to small intestine bacterial overgrowth.

The manufacturer of the drug, Salix Pharmaceuticals, paid for the trials. Dr Pimentel is a consultant for the company.

This article was published on Thu 6 January 2011

Image © Udo Kroener - Fotolia.com

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