First you get sick, then you get IBS…

Sign showing the many symptoms of a "stomach bug" AKA gastroenteritis

A bad bout of the “stomach bug” AKA gastroenteritis, can lead to ongoing IBS symptoms.
© Can Stock Photo

Many researchers have studied post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome as one of the main ways of getting IBS.

One theory is that having an intense infection causing diarrhea, can damage the bowel or the nerves of the bowel.

One trouble is that it’s hard to remember if you were sick with diarrhea (also known as gastroenteritis) before developing IBS.

The onset of IBS after gastroenteritis (post-viral IBS).

The pattern of post-infectious IBS seems to be that a person gets sick with something like a “stomach bug” (More about parasites below), that causes intense diarrhea. After the diarrhea passes, somehow the functioning of the bowels has changed.

While science has never found the actual damage or physical change, it is thought that there may be damage to the nerves. This may cause what researchers call a “change in gastric motility”.

Escherichia coli bacterium under an electron  microscope

Escherichia coli can cause food poisoning. Another way to get a nasty bout of vomiting and diarrhea.
© Can Stock Photo

Changes in gastric motility (what???).

This just means your bowels don’t move the way they used to.

Your bowels use something called peristalsis to push food and later feces (poop) through your bowels. But after (post) infection, IBS symptoms develop.

Constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc., return time after time.

To people who develop IBS-D, the diarrhea type of IBS, it seems like a stomach flu that just never goes away.

It’s a little different for the IBS-C or constipation folks. First they have diarrhea or gastroenteritis, then after a while they notice constipation and abdominal pain that doesn’t seem to go away or keeps coming back.

What about post-infectious IBS and food sensitivities?

Rubber stamp vectors of allergy products such as gluten dairy and sugar free

Damage to your bowels can make it hard to process foods, leading to food sensitivities.
© Can Stock Photo

The way my doctor explained this to me was that during a bad diarrhea attack, the bowels can slough off (lose) certain kinds of cells. These cells make it possible to digest or absorb foods. When you lose them it can lead to having undigested or partially digested foods in your colon.

Bacteria in the colon eat the undigested food and give off chemicals and gasses. This can cause bloating, cramps and spasms which are the hallmark of irritable bowel syndrome.

In other words you’ve developed a food intolerance or sensitivity.

Some people find that they can no longer digest things like milk, soy or wheat after developing post-infectious IBS.

Can a giardia infection cause IBS?

Giardia intestinalis is a parasite that many people get. It causes a couple of weeks of major diarrhea.

There are studies that show people that have had giardia diarrhea can develop post-infectious IBS just like people with viral diarrhea.

I personally believe this is how I got IBS. I used to like to go hiking. Though I didn’t drink the water, I washed with it and got a giardia infection.

After 2 or 3 major bouts with giardia intestinalis, I noticed that something was different. That was over 20 years ago, and my bowels have never been the same.

Is there anything I can do about IBS once I get it?

After talking to your doctor and following his or her advice, your next step is to find out all you can about IBS.

There is information all over this site about things you can do to help IBS symptoms.

There is also information about techniques like hypnosis , certain drugs (like Rifaximin), or natural supplements, (such as enteric peppermint oil), that have helped people with post-infectious IBS.

What about you?

What was your experience with post-infectious IBS? Let people know in the comments section below.