Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Researchers have discovered a connection between Brachyspira, a specific intestinal bacterium, and the incidence of irritable bowel syndrome, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Gut.
The discovery could lead to new medication and remedy for the illness, which affects the large intestine with cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea or constipation, said researchers at Sweden's University of Gothenburg.
The syndrome affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States, the majority of them female, and between 5% and 10% of the world population, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders.
The researchers used biopsies of intestines to determine a link between the Brachispira bacteria, which typically hide in mucus layers and are not generally noticed in sampling, a Wednesday press release said.
"Unlike most other gut bacteria, Brachyspira is in direct contact with the cells [of the intestines] and covers their surface. I was immensely surprised when we kept finding Brachyspira in more and more IBS patients, but not in healthy individuals," said study lead author Karolina Sjöberg Jabbar.
"Many questions remain to be answered, but we are hopeful that we might have found a treatable cause of IBS in at least some patients," said Jabbar, a researcher at Gothenburg.
The presence of the bacteria was significantly more common in IBS cases than in the general population surveyed.
The bacteria was seen in nineteen of 62 patients with IBS, compared to zero of 31 volunteers, who did not have the disease and were used as a control group.
The bacterium was common with patients with diarrhea, researchers said.
"The study suggests that the bacterium may be found in about a third of individuals with IBS," said study co-author Magnus Simren.
"We want to see whether this can be confirmed in a larger study, and we're also going to investigate whether, and how, Brachyspira causes symptoms in IBS. Our findings may open up completely new opportunities for treating and perhaps even curing some IBS patients," said Simren, a professor of gastroenterology at Gothenburg's Sahlgrenska Academy and a senior consultant at Sahlgrenska University Hospital.