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Quick Facts

Short Bowel Syndrome


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020
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Your bowels are your intestines. You have a large intestine and a small intestine. Your small intestine is where food is absorbed.

Malabsorption is when you have trouble absorbing the nutrients in your food. Nutrients are things that provide nutrition to your body. They include protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

What is short bowel syndrome?

Short bowel syndrome is a problem you get if you've had surgery that removed a lot of your small intestine.

  • If you don't have enough small intestine, you can't absorb enough nutrients

  • You'll lose weight and be malnourished

  • You'll also have gas and diarrhea

  • Adjusting your diet and taking certain medicines can help lessen your diarrhea

  • Some people with a very short small intestine need to be fed through their veins

What causes short bowel syndrome?

Short bowel syndrome happens after much of your small intestine is removed in surgery. Common reasons for removing part of your small intestine are:

  • Mesenteric ischemia (blocked artery that supplies blood to a large part of the intestine)

  • Injury to the intestine from radiation therapy

  • Volvulus (a twisted loop of intestine)

  • Birth defects

What are the symptoms of short bowel syndrome?

Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea

  • Weight loss

  • Not absorbing enough vitamins and minerals

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause:

  • Low blood count (anemia)

  • Easy bruising

  • Tingling of hands and feet

How can doctors tell if I have short bowel syndrome?

Doctors diagnose short bowel syndrome based on your symptoms plus the fact that you've had a long piece of your small intestine removed.

How do doctors treat short bowel syndrome?

If you have short bowel syndrome, you'll likely need:

  • Medicines to slow down your diarrhea

  • Smaller, more frequent meals with more protein and fat and less carbohydrates

  • Nutrition supplements, including vitamins, calcium, and magnesium

  • Acid-blocking medicines for your stomach if it starts producing too much acid

If these treatments don't let you tolerate eating, doctors may:

  • Permanently feed you through a vein (called TPN)

Sometimes, doctors will be able to give you a small intestine transplant from someone who died.

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