Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) sufferers may have a new treatment option for stubborn gastrointestinal distress, according to two studies in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers found that 41 percent of volunteers who took the antibiotic rifaximin for two weeks experienced a significant improvement in symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation for up to 10 weeks after the last dose. “Not everyone gets better, but when they do, their symptoms improve substantially,” says study author Mark Pimentel, MD, director of the GI Motility Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Pimentel, who pioneered rifaximin treatment for IBS and is now a consultant to the manufacturer, Salix Pharmaceuticals, says many IBS cases appear to stem from a bout of food poisoning that damages the small intestine. This creates an ideal environment for bacterial overgrowth, the by-products of which trigger symptoms. The FDA has yet to approve rifaximin for IBS (it’s used to treat traveler’s diarrhea), but some doctors will prescribe it off-label. If your insurer denies coverage, brace yourself: A two-week supply costs about $500.
Originally published in the 2011 July/August issue of More.
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