In some cases, antibiotics can cause IBS to develop. Symptoms range in severity and can become permanent.

If you have an infection or are at risk of developing one, antibiotics can help to kill harmful bacteria. However, they can also kill “good” bacteria that play an important role in gut health.

In some cases, the impact of antibiotics on the bacteria in your gut can contribute to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This condition causes long-term abdominal pain and bowel changes such as constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. IBS from antibiotic use can sometimes last months or years, or it can be a lifelong condition.

If you’ve been prescribed an antibiotic, there are things you can do to prevent developing IBS from antibiotic use. Read on to learn more about the connections between antibiotic use and IBS.

Researchers have observed that some people develop IBS after having an episode of acute gastroenteritis (stomach flu), even after clearing disease-causing bacteria. For that reason, it’s often referred to as “post-infectious” IBS. While gastroenteritis could contribute to developing IBS, what about the antibiotics usually taken to clear the stomach flu?

When IBS is linked to infection, it seems it may not be the infection alone (or at all) that’s causing the IBS but the antibiotic. In addition to plenty of anecdotal cases linking IBS to infection and antibiotic use, a body of research is now building on the long-term effects of antibiotics on our bodies, including our guts.

Destroying “good” bacteria

Our digestive tract contains trillions of bacteria that affect everything from our metabolism to our mood. Each person’s body has its own bacterial “microbiome” that’s affected by what you eat and drink, where you live, your genes, and medication use.

Antibiotics can cause serious changes in the bacterial community in a person’s microbiome and cause various health effects. A person’s risk of IBS appears to increase when their microbiome is weakened or wiped out by antibiotic use.

According to researchers, antibiotic use and overuse has the potential to change a person’s behavior, immune system function, glucose metabolism, food absorption rate, obesity, and stress levels.

One study showed that antibiotics kill off both gut bacteria and intestinal cells needed to absorb nutrients and regulate the body’s immune system, among other important bodily functions.

Encouraging “bad” bacteria

Antibiotic use can also sometimes cause the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut, such as Clostridiodes difficile (C. diff). C. diff can often be serious and require hospitalization, and in rare cases can be fatal. The rise of antibiotic use also tracks a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes deadly infections like Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or Streptococcus pneumonia.

As a result of these and other potential dangers, medical experts are now warning against the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.

Standard antibiotic side effects

Many people experience a shift in their gut microbiome following antibiotic use that is not IBS. In these cases, it’s usually possible to reestablish healthy gut bacteria over time by making use of prebiotic and probiotic foods and supplements. It’s common following a course of antibiotics to experience shifts in your gut microbiome that cause:

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IBS symptoms are more severe and long lasting than the typical gastrointestinal symptoms some people experience after taking antibiotics.

Potential IBS symptoms include:

If you’re experiencing ongoing gastrointestinal symptoms after taking antibiotics, consider following up with a healthcare professional to rule out other potential causes. In some cases, they may refer you to a gastroenterologist

When talking with them, be sure to mention:

  • which antibiotics you took
  • when your symptoms started
  • whether your symptoms are triggered by certain foods or activities

Depending on your symptoms, they may recommend some tests, such as a:

IBS can take some time to diagnose, but it’s important to rule out other causes of your symptoms to ensure you find the right treatment.

Learn more about IBS treatment.

How long can post-infectious IBS last?

It’s unclear exactly why some people can keep IBS symptoms away following infection and treatment with antibiotics. Symptoms of post-infectious IBS may resolve over a matter of months or in some cases years.

The severity and duration of post-infectious IBS appear to depend on the nature of changes to the gastrointestinal system, especially the microbiome.

How do I repair my gut after antibiotics?

If you’ve experienced IBS following antibiotic use, the good news is you may be able to repair your gut microbiome to a state that reduces or eliminates your IBS symptoms. Experts suggest supplementing with probiotics and prebiotics to reintroduce healthy gut bacteria and reduce inflammation.

You may want to try boosting your gut bacteria by eating a range of foods, especially vegetables, legumes, beans, fruits, fermented foods, and whole grains. Eating a mostly plant-based diet with polyphenol-rich foods like almonds and blueberries can also help improve your microbiome.

Are there support groups for people with IBS?

Living with IBS can impact many areas of your life, so it can be helpful to have a community to lean on when adjusting to a new diet or lifestyle. Check out these groups for more resources on living your best life with IBS:

Taking antibiotics is sometimes a necessary medical treatment to help kill off bacteria that cause infections. But antibiotics can also kill off beneficial bacteria, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms. In some cases, these symptoms might progress to IBS.

Talk with a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain following antibiotic use. They can make a proper diagnosis and help you determine a plan of treatment that works for you.