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What is Gut Dysbiosis?

By Heather Phillips
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Gut dysbiosis is a medical condition that happens when there is a microbial imbalance in a person or animal’s intestines. Humans and most animals usually have a lot of bacteria growing in their intestines, but in most instances there’s a mix between good bacteria, which help break down food into energy and assist with digestion, and bad bacteria, which are usually shuttled out with waste and can carry diseases. The problem happens when the balance is disrupted and the bad organisms overpower the good. Symptoms usually include digestive distress, particularly diarrhea, as well as more generalized symptoms like fatigue and food intolerance. There are a number of causes for the condition. Sometimes the problem is a response to certain medications, particularly antibiotics, but it can also be caused by emotional triggers like stress. Parasites and certain medical conditions can be to blame, too. The problem is usually pretty easy to solve, though medication is almost always required.

Most Common Symptoms

Most of the most obvious symptoms of this condition revolve around digestion. Sufferers often have irregular bowel movements, frequently alternating between bouts of constipation and diarrhea; it’s also common for people to experience intense pain when moving the bowels. In extreme cases people can develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as a consequence, and those who already suffer from IBS are often seen as a higher risk for developing dysbiosis.

There are a number of things that can cause gastrointestinal distress, and getting the right diagnosis often also involves paying attention to other symptoms that may seem unrelated at first. Things like chronic fatigue, food intolerance, and sudden allergies are common examples of things often linked to dysbiosis. Other symptoms may be weak or cracked fingernails, rectal itching, and dilated capillaries.

Complications

In most people, this sort of bacterial imbalance is somewhat short lived. It will often go away on its own, and it’s also pretty readily treatable. If the problem persists over time, though, it can lead to what’s known as leaky gut syndrome, which is much more serious.

As its name suggests, leaky gut is characterized by the intestine’s inability to keep all digestive processes contained. This usually happens as a result of damage to the intestinal walls caused by harmful microbes and the toxins they produce. Some of these damaging substances reduce the effectiveness of the intestines’ ability to absorb nutrients from food. They also prevent the production of substances that are helpful to digestion, substances that good microbes normally produce. This can lead to malnutrition and a host of other unpleasant consequences.

Causes Linked to Medication

Dysbiosis of the gut has many possible causes. Often, when a person is taking antibiotics, these drugs destroy beneficial bacteria along with harmful ones. If the good ones are slow to replenish themselves, Candida — a harmful yeast — or other damaging organisms may grow rapidly. This can cause an imbalance that can ultimately lead to dysbiosis.

Emotional Triggers

Stress and intense emotional imbalances can also sometimes be a cause. When people are feeling anxious, they often experience stomach upset, and the acids their stomachs produce are sometimes harsher. If a person’s body is weakened because of prolonged stress and has no chance to heal, gut dysbiosis can sometimes develop. In most cases the problems have to be going on for a long time to get to this level.

When Parasites Are Involved

Certain parasitic infections might also be to blame. Giardia and cryptosporidium are two such parasites that can cause dysbiosis symptoms. Others include both tapeworm and roundworm. When these organisms penetrate the intestines, they can do a lot to harm both how a person absorbs nutrients and how bacteria survive in the environment.

Other Possible Causes and Links

Other conditions that have been linked to prolonged intestinal imbalance include muscle and joint pain and muscle fatigue. Certain kinds of arthritis and psoriasis also may share some connection to bacterial imbalances, both in the gut and elsewhere. Many people who have been diagnosed with idiopathic IBS may also be suffering from the effects of gut dysbiosis.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Tests to detect the presence of harmful intestinal microorganisms can be helpful in diagnosing gut dysbiosis. Treatment often consists of eliminating any harmful parasites, usually with pharmaceutical drugs, and rebuilding the good intestinal flora and fauna, usually with a combination of medication and diet changes. Food allergies usually need to be addressed first in order to help a person achieve a healthier digestive system.

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Discussion Comments
By Wisedly33 — On Jan 21, 2014

@Scrbblechick: Good idea! Never thought about asking for the Diflucan prescription at the same time, but I will from now on, for sure! Thanks for the tip. I'll keep it in mind.

By Scrbblchick — On Jan 20, 2014

I've had gut dysbiosis; I just didn't know that's what it was called. My doctor always tells me to eat yogurt if I'm taking antibiotics, because of the "good" bacteria in it. I do and have not often had an upset stomach while taking them.

Antibiotics get me in another way: yeast infections. Ugh. Now, my doctor knows to write a scrip for a Diflucan at the same time she gives me antibiotics. Works for me.

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