Normally, the small intestine contains a low number of bacteria. This is different from the large intestine, which contains large numbers of bacteria.
The abnormally large numbers of bacteria in the small intestine use for their growth many of the nutrients that a person would normally absorb. As a result, a person with small bowel bacterial overgrowth may not absorb enough nutrients and will be malnourished. In addition, the breakdown of nutrients by the bacteria in the small intestines can damage the cells that line the intestinal wall. This can make it even harder for your body to absorb nutrients.
In addition, the breakdown of nutrients by the bacteria in the small intestines can damage the cells lining the intestinal wall.
Too much growth of bacteria in the small intestine can occur with many different conditions, including:
Complications of diseases or surgery that create pouches or blockages in the small bowel, such as Crohn's disease
Small bowel diverticulosis, in which small sacs occur in the inner lining of the intestine, allowing too much growth of bacteria. Although these sacs can occur anywhere along the intestinal tract, they are much more common in the large bowel than in the small bowel.
Surgical procedures, such as a Billroth II type of stomach removal (gastrectomy) that creates a loop of small intestine where excessive intestinal bacteria can grow.
The goal is to treat the cause of the excess small intestinal bacteria growth. For certain conditions, antibiotics or drugs that speed intestinal movement (motility-speeding drugs) may be considered.
Treatment also involves getting enough fluids and nutrition.
Someone who is dehydrated may need intravenous (IV) fluids in a hospital. If the person is already malnourished, a type of nutrition given through a vein (total parenteral nutrition -- TPN) may be necessary.
Severe cases lead to malnutrition. Other possible complications include:
Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea andmalabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed.Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 142.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.