Bacteria play an important role in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), its complications and its symptoms. Antibiotics can decrease tissue invasion and eliminate aggressive bacterial species. They are used in IBD to treat infective complications and for altering bacterial flora, which may result in specific anti-inflammatory effects. In addition, suppression of bacterial metabolic activities or direct effects of antibiotics on intestinal structures and functions may result in symptoms which cannot be differentiated from symptoms caused by inflammation. Although current clinical trials do not fulfill criteria of evidence-based treatment, a few placebo- or standard treatment-controlled studies suggest that metronidazole and ciprofloxacin are effective in Crohn’s colitis and ileocolitis, perianal fistulae and pouchitis. Administration of probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics can restore a predominance of beneficial species. However, beneficial effects of probiotics in IBD are modest, strain-specific and limited to certain manifestations of disease and duration of use of the probiotic. For probiotics there is reasonable evidence of efficacy in relapse prevention in chronic pouchitis and ulcerative colitis, and suggestive evidence for postoperative prevention in pouchitis. Therapeutic manipulation of the intestinal flora offers considerable promise for treating IBD, but must be supported by large controlled therapeutic trials before widespread clinical acceptance. These agents may become a component of treating IBD in combination with traditional anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive agents. Probiotic strategies, based on metagenomic or metabonomic analyses, and new classes of probiotics might play an important role in the future management of IBD.

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