Can My GP Test For SIBO?

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth—better known as ‘SIBO’—has got a lot of press in recent years.

Your small intestine is only supposed to contain low numbers of bacteria and other microbes. SIBO happens when too many end up there.

Twenty years ago, we thought bacteria only overgrew in your small intestine after an operation, or if you had a serious problem with your immune system. Today, research has found that upto 85% of people with IBS symptoms have SIBO [Source: PubMed].

The good news is that many doctors now test for SIBO, which means you can get tested and treated for SIBO on the NHS. The bad news is that not all doctors recognise SIBO, and some may not have even heard of it.

If you want your GP to test for SIBO, you might need to help them a little. Read on to find out how.

Why do you think you have SIBO? 

The symptoms of SIBO are also the symptoms of many other health conditions, so it’s very difficult to diagnose it without a test.

If you can show your GP medically reviewed evidence that your gut symptoms point towards SIBO, they are a lot more likely to recommend a test. There are now hundreds of research papers on SIBO. It could be a good idea to show your GP some of this research if they are unfamiliar with SIBO.

You can find out more about the symptoms of SIBO and the health conditions linked to it on our SIBO page.

SIBO symptoms

A study in 2007 [Source: PubMed] stated that the symptoms of SIBO are:

  • abdominal pain/discomfort
  • bloating
  • abdominal distension (a big belly)
  • diarrhoea
  • flatulence (wind)
  • weakness

A 2020 study brought together some of the latest research and guidelines on SIBO [Source: PubMed], and states that SIBO can cause constipation. This is important because even if your GP has heard of SIBO, they may not be aware of the fact that it can cause constipation as well as diarrhoea.

Could your symptoms be SIBO?

View our at home SIBO test

How do doctors test for SIBO?

Your GP can’t test you for SIBO. If your GP wants you to get a SIBO test, they have to refer you to a gastroenterologist who will carry out the test, usually at a hospital.

If you’re finding it all a bit confusing, you’re not alone. Check out our article SIBO test: all your questions answered to find out everything you need to know about SIBO testing in the UK.

SIBO testing on the NHS

Some NHS trusts don’t test for SIBO, so even if your GP agrees that you should have a SIBO test, they can’t refer you for one. If you live in an area where the NHS doesn’t test for SIBO, you can get a SIBO test privately, either through us at Healthpath or another provider.

If you do get referred to a gastroenterologist for a SIBO test, you’ll drink a sugary solution then spend a few hours at the hospital, breathing into a tube every 20 minutes. Your breath samples are then analysed to measure the levels of certain gases (methane and hydrogen) you breathed out.

The test should measure both these gases. Some NHS tests may only measure hydrogen. The test should also last for three hours to get the most accurate result. Unfortunately, some hospitals and clinics only run two-hour tests.

At Healthpath, we use three-hour SIBO tests that analyse both hydrogen and methane. Find out more about our SIBO test.

What type of doctor treats SIBO?

A gastroenterologist treats SIBO. If you get a positive result, they can prescribe the antibiotics you’ll need to treat the bacterial overgrowth.

However, you can also treat SIBO with specific herbs and supplements, with the guidance of a Registered Nutritional Therapist or Functional Medicine Practitioner. Research has shown that some herbal compounds are even more effective than antibiotics at treating SIBO [Source: PubMed].

Where can I get a SIBO test?

If you want to get a SIBO test through the NHS, you’ll have to ask your GP. They could refer you to a gastroenterologist who can test and treat you relatively quickly, but the waiting time is usually a minimum of eight weeks.

SIBO testing in the UK

You can also get a SIBO test privately. There are many SIBO test providers on the UK market. However, many of them only provide the test and the result, with no advice or protocol to follow to tackle your symptoms.

As far as we know, Healthpath is the only SIBO test provider in the UK that gives advice and a treatment plan as part of the test price.

 

Do you suspect SIBO?

View our at home SIBO test

How much does a SIBO test cost?

If you get the test through the NHS, it’s free. You may have a fee to pay for any prescription that your doctor gives you, of course.

Our SIBO test costs £160. With that, you get:

  • A SIBO breath test kit, which you’ll take at home and send back to us for our accredited labs to analyse
  • A hand-picked SIBO diet plan and Healthpath education program, designed to support your health journey
  • A review of your test results and symptoms by a qualified practitioner
  • Your bespoke test report 
  • An advanced supplement plan, based on your SIBO results and symptom questionnaire (you’ll fill this in before you take the test)

Conclusion

  • You could get a SIBO test through your GP, but it depends on how much your doctor knows about SIBO and which area of the UK you live in.
  • If your doctor does agree to test for SIBO, they’ll have to refer you to a gastroenterologist for an appointment, which could take a long time.
  • A SIBO test should last for three hours and analyse both hydrogen and methane.
  • Some NHS trusts only test for hydrogen, and/or use two-hour tests.
  • You can buy a SIBO test privately, which will probably be a much quicker process than taking it through the NHS.
  • Make sure your test analyses both hydrogen and methane, and lasts for three hours.
  • Healthpath’s SIBO test comes with the professional advice and supplement recommendations you need to treat SIBO if you get a positive result.
  • If you get a negative result, you don’t have SIBO, but symptoms like diarrhoea, bloating and constipation mean you still need to address your gut health.
  • Our SIBO test comes with tailored diet, lifestyle and supplement advice to support your symptoms whether you have SIBO or you don’t.

Author

Alexandra Falconer MA (Dist) DipCNM mBANT is a Registered Nutritional Therapist specialising in IBS and related conditions. A graduate of Brighton’s College of Naturopathic Medicine, she is committed to fighting the root causes of chronic illness and bringing functional medicine to everyone who needs it.

Before her natural health career, Alex was a journalist and copywriter. She continues to write for magazines and media agencies, and now combines her two great passions—writing and health—by creating content that empowers people to claim their right to a healthy body and mind.

 

 

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