Short Bowel Syndrome

What is Short Bowel Syndrome?

Short bowel syndrome (short gut syndrome, small intestine insufficiency) occurs when the small intestine is too short for proper nutrient absorption. At least half of the small intestine must be present to receive adequate nutrition.

The insufficiency is usually caused by the surgical removal of a portion of the small intestine or a birth defect. Surgical removal may be required because of a devastating injury such as a gunshot wound, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s), a blood clot or premature birth.

What are the Symptoms of Short Bowel Syndrome?

The symptoms of short bowel syndrome may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatty light-colored bowel movements
  • Loose stools
  • Unusually foul smelling stools
  • Dehydration

Short Bowel Syndrome Causes

Short Bowel Syndrome is a disorder where the small intestines fail to absorb nutrients adequately due to length. They could have been missing or removed surgically. This condition may occur or recur to people with small intestines of less than 20 feet in length. Babies born before term primarily may have short intestines or due to their immaturity, they could be damaged – this obliviously calls for removal. This disorder is medically known as necrotizing enterocolitis. Additionally, this condition is traced back from other medical conditions and diseases such as cancer treatment, tumors of the small intestine and bowel injury, obesity bypass surgery and digestive disorder.

Adults highly likely to contract this disease are those with the Crohn’s or Volvulus disease. Crohn’s disease for instance, which is the inflammation of the bowel, ordinarily is treated through removal of a big chunk of the small intestine. Volvulus is characterized by unexplained random twisting of the small intestine that restricts blood circulation which can be fatal.

Short bowel syndrome manifests due to the small intestine’s inability to absorb the right quantity of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Consequently, these deficiencies evidently show as dehydration, diarrhea, weight loss, malnutrition and abdominal pain.

How is Short Bowel Syndrome Treated?

After blood tests, imaging and fecal tests determine short bowel syndrome, treatment may include:

  • Increased daily caloric intake that is comprised of healthy foods
  • Medication to increase nutrient absorption (it keeps food in the intestines longer)
  • Intravenous nutrition (total parenteral nutrition)
  • Transplant of the small bowel

Without treatment, short bowel syndrome can result in malnutrition, weight loss, pernicious anemia, metabolic acidosis, kidney stones, gallstones, softening of the bones and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Short Bowel Syndrome Prevention

There is no long-term treatment for Short Bowel Syndrome since the transplantation and parenteral formula work as temporary management. Once the condition manifests, its effects can only be minimized to improve the quality of life and not curative measures. This expresses the dire need to prevent the condition. Avoid diets high in fats and ensure the peristaltic movements of food runs smoothly. Nevertheless, if the small intestine is already short, medical professionals may administer intestinal adaptation changes to increase nutrient absorption. Apparently, the inner lining can be enlarged and lengthened, while the diameter can be increased so absorption can be sufficient.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 07, 2017
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