Navigate Up

Seniors Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Short bowel syndrome

Short bowel syndrome is a condition in which nutrients are not properly absorbed (malabsorption ) because a large part of the small intestine is missing or has been surgically removed.

Alternative Names

Small intestine insufficiency

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

When areas of the small intestine are removed by surgery, or they are missing due to a birth defect (congenital defect), there may not be enough surface area left in the remaining bowel to absorb enough nutrients from food.

This condition is likely to develop when one-half or more of the bowel is removed during surgery. Risk factors include diseases of the small intestine that may require surgery, such as Crohn's disease . Necrotizing enterocolitis is a common cause of short bowel syndrome in infants.

Symptoms

Signs and tests

  • Blood chemistry tests (such as albumin level )
  • Complete blood count (CBC )
  • Fecal fat test
  • Small intestine x-ray
  • Vitamin levels in the blood

Treatment

Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms, and may include:

  • A high-calorie diet that supplies essential vitamins and minerals, as well as certain types of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
  • Some vitamins and minerals may need to be given by injection
  • Treatment for anemia with vitamin B-12 , folic acid , and increased dietary iron
  • Medications to slow down the normal movement of the intestine (lengthens the time nutrients spend in the small intestine)
  • Tube feeding through a vein (parenteral nutrition), if normal feeding is not delivering enough nutrients (patients can sometimes return to normal eating once they have stabilized)

Expectations (prognosis)

The condition may improve over time if it occurs as a result of surgery. There may be a gradual improvement in nutrient absorption.

Complications

  • Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine
  • Nervous system problems caused by a lack of vitamin B12
  • Too much acid in the blood (metabolic acidosis due to diarrhea)
  • Gallstones
  • Kidney stones
  • Malnutrition
  • Weakened bones (osteomalacia)
  • Weight loss

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you develop symptoms of short bowel syndrome, especially if you recently had bowel surgery.

References

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 142.

Updated: 5/1/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com