Short bowel syndrome is a condition that occurs when part of the small intestine is missing or has been removed during surgery. Nutrients are not properly absorbed into the body (malabsorption) as a result.
When part of the small intestine is missing, there may not be enough surface area in the bowel to absorb enough nutrients from food. The this can happen when half or more of the bowel is removed during surgery or sections are missing due to a birth defect (congenital defect),
Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. Treatments may include:
- A high-calorie diet that supplies key vitamins and minerals, as well as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
- Injections of some vitamins and minerals
- Vitamin B12, folic acid and increased iron in the diet to treat anemia
- Medicines to slow down the normal movement of the intestine so food remains in the intestine longer
- Injections of special growth factors
- Tube feeding through a vein (parenteral nutrition) if normal feeding is not supplying enough nutrients
- Small bowel transplantation in some cases
The condition may improve over time if it is due to surgery. Nutrient absorption may slowly get better.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of short bowel syndrome, especially after you have had bowel surgery.
Small intestine insufficiency
Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 142.
Update Date 5/15/2014
Updated by: Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.