5 Tell-Tale Signs of Leaky Gut Syndrome

Scientists are still working to understand this confounding condition.

For most people, the digestive tract is a well-oiled machine: The food you eat travels to the stomach for partial digestion, then on to the intestines where the bulk of the nutrients are extracted and put to work via the bloodstream. But for people with leaky gut syndrome, also known as "intestinal permeability," that system is disrupted.

"An unhealthy gut lining may have large cracks or holes, allowing partially digested food, toxins, and bugs to penetrate the tissues beneath it," explains Harvard Health Publishing. "This may trigger inflammation and changes in the gut flora (normal bacteria) that could lead to problems within the digestive tract and beyond."

However, leaky gut syndrome is not currently considered a medical diagnosis, in part because it's difficult to distinguish the hypothetical condition from its underlying causes. The Cleveland Clinic adds that there are no symptoms that are confirmed to be directly caused by intestinal permeability—each could in fact result from the injury to your intestinal lining which has caused your intestinal permeability. However, knowing the tell-tale signs often linked to leaky gut syndrome could help you get to the root of your digestive problem and start an important conversation with your doctor about your symptoms.

Read on to learn the five tell-tale signs that you've got leaky gut syndrome.

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A burning feeling in the gut

Close up of a senior man experiencing stomach pain while having breakfast with his wife

Many people with leaky gut syndrome report feeling a burning sensation of ulceration in the gut, the Cleveland Clinic says.

"The theory of leaky gut syndrome suggests that anything that injures your gut lining can lead to intestinal permeability if the injury is persistent enough," their experts write. "Erosion of your gut lining will affect your digestion, your immunity, and your sensitivity to pain in your intestines. And in some cases, it may lead to intestinal permeability."

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Painful indigestion


When indigestion (dyspepsia) strikes, you're likely to experience a feeling of pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen or behind the breastbone. Experts say that those with leaky gut are more likely to experience painful indigestion resulting from the loss of mucosa—the moist mucous membrane lining the inside of the intestines.


Woman holding toilet paper going into bathroom

Diarrhea can have a wide range of root causes, including a bacterial or viral infection, food allergy, parasites, medication side effects, functional bowel disorder, and more. This makes it difficult to trace it back to leaky gut, but could still serve as corroborating evidence of the condition if other symptoms are present.

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Gas and bloating

Man in a suit holding his bloated stomach

Some individuals with leaky gut syndrome experience gas and bloating "from fermentation by overgrown bacteria in your gut," the Cleveland Clinic says. Those with bloating typically report experiencing the sensation of having a full stomach, or the stomach becoming visibly distended. Dietary changes and probiotics may help improve this symptom.


woman lying in bed, feeling unwell, with her hand on her head. Sickness / illness concept. Coronavirus / fever / headache concept. Home isolation.

People who may have a leaky gut often feel fatigued, developing "low energy from the reduced ability to draw energy from your food." For similar reasons, many individuals with the possible condition tend to have nutritional deficiencies. A doctor can help you determine whether your body is absorbing enough nutrients, and if not, whether the source of the problem is dietary or due to an underlying gastrointestinal problem.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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