What can cause a "leaky" bowel?

The inside of the bowel is lined by a single layer of cells that make up the mucosal barrier (the barrier between the inside of the gut and the rest of the body).

This barrier is effective at absorbing nutrients, but prevents most large molecules and germs passing from inside the bowel into the bloodstream and potentially causing widespread symptoms.

In some circumstances, this barrier can become less effective and "leaky", although this in itself is not generally thought to be sufficientto cause serious problems.

Alcohol and certain painkillers

Alcohol, aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen are well-known irritants of the bowel lining. They can damage the seals between cells, allowing some substances to pass through the gaps and into the bloodstream.

Gastroenterologists (specialists in gut conditions) generally agree that these irritants don't usually cause anything more than just mild inflammation of a particular area of the bowel.

This will usually cause no obvious symptoms and will improve over time if you stop taking the medication or stop drinking alcohol. At the very worst, the inflammation might be bad enough to occasionally cause ulcers in the bowel lining.

Certainconditions and treatments

The following conditions and treatments can also damage the seals in the bowel lining:

  • inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease
  • infections of the intestines such as salmonella , norovirus and giardiasis
  • coeliac disease
  • chemotherapy medicines
  • chronic kidney disease
  • radiotherapy to the abdomen (tummy)
  • immunosuppressants (medicines that weaken the immune system)
  • cystic fibrosis
  • type 1 diabetes
  • sepsis
  • complicated surgery

Generally, even in these situations treatment for a "leaky" bowel isnt necessary. However, under certain circumstances people with Crohn's disease, for example, may benefit from a liquid diet to reduce bowel inflammation, which also improves the leaky bowel (read more about treating Crohn's disease ).

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 21 Dec 2018