Home Health A-Z Short Bowel Syndrome – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Short Bowel Syndrome – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Verified By Apollo Doctors March 21, 2022 1817 0
Short Bowel Syndrome
Short Bowel Syndrome

The bowels in the human body are made up of the small and large intestine. Most of the consumed nutrients are absorbed into the body during digestion in the small intestine. Short bowel syndrome, also known as a short gut syndrome, occurs when the body is incapable of absorbing adequate nutrients from the foods consumed because the patient does not have enough length of small intestine.

What are the symptoms of short bowel syndrome?

Some of the common signs and symptoms of the short bowel syndrome include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Greasy, foul-smelling stools
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Swelling in the lower extremities

What are the causes?

Short bowel syndrome might occur if:

  • Parts of the small intestine are surgically removed – The health conditions that can require the surgical removal of significant portions of the small intestine include Crohn’s disease, cancer, traumatic injuries, and blood clots in the arteries that supply blood to the intestines.
  • Parts of the small intestine are missing or damaged at birth– Babies can be born with a short or damaged small intestine that needs to be surgically removed.

How is short bowel syndrome diagnosed?

The doctor can suggest blood or stool tests to measure nutrient levels to diagnose the short gut syndrome. Other tests can include imaging tests like an X-ray with a contrast material (barium X-ray), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scan, and CT or MR enterography, which can show changes or obstructions to the intestines.

How is short bowel syndrome treated?

The treatment options for short bowel syndrome depend on the parts of the small intestine that are affected,  if the colon is intact and the patient’s preferences.

The treatments for short bowel syndrome can include the following:

  • Nutritional therapy – People suffering from short bowel syndrome should follow a special diet and consume nutritional supplements. Some people may require parenteral nutrition or a feeding tube (enteral nutrition) to avoid malnutrition. Furthermore, patients with mild short gut syndrome may have to have several meals in a day with extra fluids for improved absorption of nutrients and vitamins.
  • Medications – Besides nutritional support, the doctor can prescribe drugs to aid in managing short bowel syndrome, like medications to aid in controlling stomach acid, reducing diarrhoea, or improving intestinal absorption after surgery.
  • Surgery – Doctors may recommend surgery in children and adults with short bowel syndrome if the other treatment options have proved ineffective. The kinds of surgery include procedures that ease the passage of nutrients through the intestine or procedures to widen the intestine (autologous gastrointestinal reconstruction) and small bowel transplantation (SBT).

What are the complications that can develop from short bowel syndrome?

In addition to the above, the patient may also experience the following due to the lack of adequate nutrients and vitamins in the body:

Additionally, treatments can also lead to complications such as:

  • Catheter-related infections, blood clots, and kidney or liver problems that develop from TPN (total parenteral nutrition)
  • Organ rejection and infections that develop after a transplant


In the majority of the cases, primarily if the condition is caused as the result of surgery, the symptoms can improve as time passes. This is dependent on factors like the amount of healthy intestine remaining intact and how well it adapts. Typically, with proper medical management and self-care, the quality of life can improve. Consumption of a healthy diet and staying active is important in managing short bowel syndrome. 

Verified By Apollo Doctors
At Apollo, we believe that easily accessible, reliable health information can make managing health conditions an empowering experience. AskApollo Online Health Library team consists of medical experts who create curated peer-reviewed medical content that is regularly updated and is easy-to-understand.

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