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Short Bowel Syndrome: Here's What You Need To Know

Medically reviewed by Elfred Landas, MD · General Practitioner · Maxicare Primary Care Center

Written by Sky Abundo · Updated Jun 24, 2022

    Short Bowel Syndrome: Here's What You Need To Know

    While it is a rare disease, short bowel syndrome can still be a cause for concern. But what is short bowel syndrome and what causes it? What kind of treatment is needed? Read on to find out.

    What Is Short Bowel Syndrome?

    Short bowel syndrome is a condition where the body is unable to absorb enough nutrients because the small intestines are lacking. This may occur because…

    • The small intestine might have reduced function due to a surgical operation where a part of it needed to be cut off to treat an infection or a disease.
    • Part of the intestine is affected by a disease which is causing it to not function properly.
    • In rare cases, the small intestine might be naturally deficient at birth. Babies can be born with a shorter small intestine than usual, or they may be born with damaged small intestines, that needed to be removed surgically.

    The small intestine is an important part of the body that is responsible for digesting food and absorbing the nutrients contained within them. When one’s small intestine is not functioning properly, this may cause the body to be deficient in minerals and nutrients needed to develop and function properly.

    It is important to note that children born with short bowel syndrome are at a higher risk than their older counterparts. This is because children need the proper amount of nutrients and minerals to properly grow and develop. Short bowel syndrome might lead to serious problems and complications if they grow up with vitamin deficiency and malnutrition.

    What Are the Causes of Short Bowel Syndrome?

    Short bowel can either occur because the small intestine was surgically removed because of a previously existing medical condition, or because the small intestine was shorter or defective at birth.

    Crohn’s disease, cancer, traumatic injuries, and blood clots are just some of the reasons why one might need their small intestine to be operated on. In cases like these, large portions of the small intestine might be removed. Babies born with a damaged small intestine would also require it to be surgically removed.

    What Are the Symptoms of Short Bowel Syndrome?

    Here are some common signs and symptoms of short bowel syndrome:

    • Diarrhea
    • Greasy stools
    • Fatigue
    • Weight Loss
    • Malnutrition
    • Swelling in the lower extremities
    • Intestinal cramping
    • Bloating
    • Heartburn
    • Dehydration
    • Anemia
    • Bacterial infections

    How Is Short Bowel Syndrome Diagnosed?

    If your doctor thinks that you have short bowel syndrome, he or she might recommend that you take blood or stool tests. These tests are to measure the level of nutrients found in your body. Other tests might be recommended, including:

    • Barium X-ray
    • Computerized tomography scan (CT scan)
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • CT or MR enterography

    Treatment Options

    Treatment largely depends on what parts of your small intestine are infected. Having an intact colon or not will also be a factor on what your treatment options would look like.

    Here are some treatment options for short bowel syndrome:

    Nutritional therapy

    This kind of treatment means that patients with this condition will have to follow a specific diet, as well as take nutritional supplements. In some cases, patients will get their nutrition through a vein or a feeding tube. This is done for the purpose of preventing malnutrition.


    Along with a prescribed diet and vitamins, your doctor might also prescribe drugs to help control the discomfort that short bowel syndrome brings. These drugs might be prescribed  to help control stomach acid, reduce diarrhea, or improve intestinal absorption especially after a surgical procedure.

    Key Takeaways

    In some cases, doctors might advise surgery for both adults and children with short bowel syndrome. These procedures include the slowing of the passing of nutrients through the intestine, or the lengthening of one’s intestine, and sometimes, a small bowel transplant.
    While this condition is a cause for concern, when looked into properly, it shouldn’t hinder both adults and children from living full and fulfilling lives.

    Learn more about Other Digestive Health Issues here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Elfred Landas, MD

    General Practitioner · Maxicare Primary Care Center

    Written by Sky Abundo · Updated Jun 24, 2022

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