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SIBO may sound like the name of a children’s television show character, but it’s actually a significant health problem that requires prompt attention. Left untreated, SIBO — which stands for small intestine bacterial overgrowth — often leads to pain, upset stomach and even malnutrition.

5 Signs of an Unhealthy Gut 

Your digestive system is complex. To do its job right, it requires cooperation between several organs, a waste disposal system and more than 400 different types of living bacteria.1 Between our complicated tummies and the mere existence of Taco Bell, it’s little wonder so many Americans experience recurrent stomach issues.

What’s more, your gut is also connected to a range of other systems and processes in your body, such as your mental health and mood, various endocrine issues and autoimmune diseases and the state of your skin. In short, if your gut isn’t healthy, the rest of you may not be either.

Here are five signs your digestive system might need a little TLC:

  • Upset stomach
  • Unexpectedly gaining or losing weight
  • Eczema and other skin conditions
  • Insomnia or similarly sub-par sleep
  • Autoimmune issues

Where SIBO Fits In

SIBO is just one type of digestive distress. It materializes when gut bacteria from outside your small intestine begins growing inside your small intestine. This rampaging bacteria typically causes pain and upsets your stomach, the latter of which can lead to dehydration. If the unwanted bacteria aren’t eliminated, they’ll eventually start gobbling up more and more vitamins and minerals, too, resulting in malnutrition. If you’ve ever let a friend crash on your couch — or, worse, your roommate has let one of his or her friends crash on your couch — this likely sounds all too familiar.

What Causes SIBO? 

How's this for frustrating? Researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes SIBO or how it’s contracted. More studies need to be conducted, but experts suspect a variety of things may be to blame, including: 

  • A malfunctioning immune system
  • Muscle failure in the small intestine that prevents bacteria removal
  • Changes in the small bowel’s pH level
  • Basic differences in anatomy 

If you have a condition affecting your digestive tract — such as diabetes, hypothyroidism or HIV — that may also increase your odds of SIBO. 

How to Determine if You Have SIBO 

Being an intestinal issue, it only makes sense most SIBO symptoms manifest in your gut. They typically include: 

  • Stomach pain
  • Indigestion
  • Gas
  • Occasional bloating
  • Cramps
  • Upset stomach
  • Occasional constipation
  • Weight loss

Given this rogue gallery of discomfort, it can be difficult to differentiate between SIBO and other gastrointestinal issues. The truth is, for a honest-to-goodness diagnosis, you’re going to want to pay your doctor a visit.

Testing for SIBO

In addition to going over your symptoms and examining your abdomen, your physician may also order blood or fecal tests and conduct a breath test, as bonus bacteria in your small intestine frequently cause the breath to contain hydrogen and methane.

Gut Health Improvement: Getting Rid of SIBO  

SIBO typically requires antibiotics to wrangle the bacteria. If it’s left you dehydrated or malnourished, you may be given an IV as well.

Once the excess bacteria are managed, the underlying cause of your SIBO needs to be addressed. Often, nutritional changes such as a healthier diet provide noticeable improvement. Eating smaller meals can help, too, as it involves less food languishing in your tummy.

When you experience abdominal discomfort, it’s easy to chalk that pain up to last night’s dinner or nerves. If SIBO symptoms persist, however, it’s important to talk to your doctor and get on your way to a leaner, cleaner gut.