January 6, 2011

Irritable Bowel Symptoms No More?

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- From constipation and diarrhea to bloating and abdominal pain, the estimated 30 million victims of irritable bowel syndrome in the United States have it tough. Now, recent testing of a new treatment called rifaximin offers hope for those struggling with the chronic condition.

The antibiotic therapy was developed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and was found to relieve patients of their painful symptoms during and after treatment -- often lasting for successive weeks. Rifaximin works by targeting gut bacteria known as "gut flora," which are believed to trigger the symptoms.

"For years, the treatment options for IBS patients have been extremely limited," Mark Pimentel, M.D., lead researcher of the clinical trials at Cedars-Sinai, was quoted as saying. "IBS does not respond well to treatments currently available such as dietary changes and fiber 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."

Pimentel and his team observed more than 600 IBS patients undergoing double-blind trials. The patients, who suffered from light to moderate bloating and diarrhea, were given either a 550 milligram dose of rifaximin or a placebo for two weeks, three times a day. Forty percent of the patients who had taken the drug noted substantial and prolonged relief from their symptoms, which lasted for weeks following the treatment.

These findings are hopeful for the millions of IBS patients who experience ongoing constipation, diarrhea, or an alternating mix of the two as well as excruciating cramping, gas and bloating. Since the cause of the disease has been tricky to pinpoint over the years, doctors had previously prescribed medications that served to speed up or slow down the digestive system.

Pimentel and his colleagues found close ties between the most frequently reported symptom of bloating and bacterial fermentation in the gut, which is often seen in small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Along with their current findings, the research team paved the way for rifaximin's FDA approval in treating hepatic encephalopathy and traveler's diarrhea.

Source: New England Journal of Medicine, January 2011