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Irritable bowel symptoms eased by antibiotic

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Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms can subside in patients who take a two-week course of antibiotics, a research study has revealed.

In two studies on the poorly understood and painful condition that especially afflicts younger women, 41% of the patients who took rifaximin said their symptoms substantially improved, compared to 32% who were given a placebo.

The two studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved 1,260 patients who had mild to moderate irritable bowel syndrome without constipation, the most common form. Participants were assigned to take 550mg of rifaximin or dummy pills three times a day for a fortnight.

For the next four weeks, they were asked if their symptoms improved. Overall, 41% of those on rifaximin reported “adequate relief” for at least two weeks, compared to 32% on dummy pills. The benefits lasted for the 10 weeks they were followed.

While the response to rifaximin may seem low, it is in the range seen with other effective Irritable bowel syndrome treatments, according to Dr Jan Tack of the University of Leuven in Belgium. Other findings suggest that a larger number of patients may have had some benefit - just not to the level of “adequate relief” that was used in these studies to measure response, he said.

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