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Definition

What is blind loop syndrome?

Blind loop syndrome occurs when part of the small intestine forms a loop that food bypasses during digestion. The presence of this “blind loop” means food may not move normally through the digestive tract.

Slowly moving food and waste products become a breeding ground for bacteria. The result — bacterial overgrowth — often causes diarrhea and may cause weight loss and malnutrition.

Sometimes called stasis syndrome or stagnant loop syndrome, blind loop syndrome is often a complication of stomach (abdominal) surgery. But blind loop syndrome can also result from structural problems and some diseases. Sometimes surgery is needed to correct the problem, but antibiotics are the most common treatment.

How common is blind loop syndrome?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of blind loop syndrome?

The common symptoms of blind loop syndrome are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatty stools
  • Fullness after a meal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Unintentional weight loss

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes blind loop syndrome?

The small intestine is the longest section of your digestive tract, measuring about 20 feet (6.1 meters). The small intestine is where food mixes with digestive juices and nutrients are absorbed into your bloodstream.

Unlike your large intestine (colon), your small intestine normally has relatively few bacteria. But in blind loop syndrome, stagnant food in the bypassed small intestine becomes an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. The bacteria may produce toxins as well as block the absorption of nutrients.

The greater the length of small bowel involved in the blind loop, the greater the chance of bacterial overgrowth.

What triggers blind loop syndrome?

Blind loop syndrome can be caused by:

  • Complications of abdominal surgery, including gastric bypass for obesity and gastrectomy to treat peptic ulcers and stomach cancer
  • Structural problems in and around your small intestine, including scar tissue (intestinal adhesions) on the outside of the bowel and small, bulging pouches of tissue that protrude through the intestinal wall (diverticulosis)
  • Certain medical conditions, including Crohn’s disease, radiation enteritis, scleroderma, celiac disease, obesity and diabetes, can slow movement (motility) of food and waste products through the small intestine

Risk factors

What increases my risk for blind loop syndrome?

There are many risk factors for blind loop syndrome, such as:

  • Gastric surgery for obesity or ulcers
  • A structural defect in the small intestine
  • An injury to the small intestine
  • An abnormal passageway (fistula) between two segments of bowel
  • Crohn’s disease, intestinal lymphoma or scleroderma involving the small intestine
  • History of radiation therapy to the abdomen
  • Diabetes
  • Diverticulosis of the small intestine

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is blind loop syndrome diagnosed?

During a physical examination, the doctor may notice a mass in, or swelling of, the abdomen. Possible tests include:

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal x-ray
  • Blood tests to check nutritional status
  • Upper GI series with small bowel follow through contrast x-ray

How is blind loop syndrome treated?

Whenever possible, doctors treat blind loop syndrome by dealing with the underlying problem — for example, by surgically repairing a postoperative blind loop, stricture or fistula. But the blind loop can’t always be reversed. In that case, treatment focuses on correcting nutritional deficiencies and eliminating bacterial overgrowth.

Antibiotic therapy

For most people, the initial way to treat bacterial overgrowth is with antibiotics. Doctors may start this treatment if your symptoms and medical history strongly suggest this is the cause, even when test results are inconclusive or without any testing at all. Testing may be performed if antibiotic treatment is not effective.

A short course of antibiotics often significantly reduces the number of abnormal bacteria. But bacteria can return when the antibiotic is discontinued, so treatment may need to be long term. Some people with a blind loop may go for long periods without needing antibiotics, while others may need them regularly.

Doctors may also switch among different antibiotics to help prevent bacterial resistance. Antibiotics wipe out most intestinal bacteria, both normal and abnormal. As a result, antibiotics can cause some of the very problems they’re trying to cure, including diarrhea. Switching among different drugs can help avoid this problem.

Nutritional support

Correcting nutritional deficiencies is a crucial part of treating blind loop syndrome, particularly in people with severe weight loss. Malnutrition can be treated, but the damage it causes can’t always be reversed.

These treatments may improve vitamin deficiencies, reduce intestinal distress and help with weight gain:

  • Nutritional supplements. People with blind loop syndrome may need intramuscular injections of vitamin B-12, as well as oral vitamins, calcium and iron supplements.
  • Lactose-free diet. Damage to the small intestine may cause you to lose the ability to digest milk sugar (lactose). In that case, it’s important to avoid most lactose-containing products, or use lactase preparations that help digest milk sugar.Some people may tolerate yogurt because the bacteria used in the culturing process naturally break down lactose.
  • Medium-chain triglycerides. Most dietary fats consist of a long chain of fat molecules (triglycerides). Some people with blind loop syndrome have an easier time digesting medium-chain triglycerides, found in coconut oil.Medium-chain triglycerides are sometimes prescribed as a dietary supplement for people with severe blind loop syndrome resulting in short bowel syndrome.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage blind loop syndrome?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

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

Review Date: September 7, 2017 | Last Modified: September 7, 2017

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