What is short bowel syndrome?

Short bowel syndrome is a problem that occurs when part of the small intestine is missing or has been removed during surgery. Nutrients are not properly absorbed into the body as a result.

How common is short bowel syndrome?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of short bowel syndrome?

The common symptoms of short bowel syndrome are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Pale, greasy stools
  • Swelling (edema), especially of the legs
  • Very foul-smelling stools
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration

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.


What causes short bowel syndrome?

The small intestine absorbs much of the nutrients found in foods we eat. When one half or more of our small intestine is missing, the body may not absorb enough food to stay healthy and maintain your weight.

Some infants are born missing part or much of their small intestine.

More often, short bowel syndrome occurs because much of the small intestine is removed during surgery. This type of surgery may be needed:

  • After gunshots or other trauma damaged the intestines
  • For someone with severe Crohn disease
  • For infants, often born too early, when part of their intestines dies

Risk factors

What increases my risk for short bowel syndrome?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

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

How is short bowel syndrome diagnosed?

If you’re having any symptoms and you’ve had a lot of your small intestine removed, your doctor may already suspect short bowel syndrome. To be sure, he’ll do a physical exam and may run other tests, including:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool exam
  • X-rays of your chest and belly
  • Upper GI series, also called a barium X-ray. You’ll drink a special liquid that coats your throat, stomach, and small intestine to make them stand out on the X-ray image.
  • CT scan, a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures inside your body
  • Ultrasound, which uses sound waves to make images of your organs
  • Bone density test
  • Liver biopsy, when doctors remove a piece of tissue for testing. Most of the time, doctors make a small cut on your belly and use a hollow needle to get the cells they need. They use a CT scan or an ultrasound to see where to place the needle. The biopsy takes about 5 minutes, but you may need a few hours to recover.

Along with the tests, your doctor will probably also ask you questions about your symptoms, like:

  • How are you feeling?
  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • Do you have any other medical conditions?
  • How are your energy levels?
  • Are you having any diarrhea?
  • Do you have problems after you eat certain foods?
  • What makes your symptoms better? What makes them worse?

How is short bowel syndrome treated?

Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and ensuring the body receives enough nutrients.

A high-calorie diet that supplies:

  • Key vitamins and minerals, such as iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12
  • Enough carbohydrates, proteins, and fats

If needed, injections of some vitamins and minerals or special growth factors will be given.

Medicines to slow down the normal movement of the intestine can be tried. This may allow food to remain in the intestine longer.

If the body is not able to absorb enough nutrients, total parenteral nutrition (TPN) is tried. It will help you or your child get nutrition from a special formula through a vein in the body. Your health care provider will select the right amount of calories and TPN solution. Sometimes, you can also eat and drink while getting nutrition from TPN.

Small bowel transplantation is an option in some cases.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage short bowel syndrome?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with short bowel syndrome:

  • Know what to eat. There’s no single diet plan for people with short bowel syndrome, but in general, you should make sure to eat lean protein (meat, dairy products, eggs, tofu) and carbs that are low in fiber (white rice, pasta, white bread). Avoid sweets and fat. A dietitian can help you figure out what foods are best.
  • Stay active. Exercise is good for your body and mind. Your doctor can tell you how much and what kinds of activity are right for you. If you’re using an IV for treatment, ask for one that you can carry with you.
  • Ask for help. Family, friends, and members of your community can help you run errands, get rides to the doctor, or just let you vent about the stresses of treatment. It may help to talk to a psychologist or counselor, too.
  • Learn from others. Support groups can be a great way to get advice and understanding from other people living with short bowel syndrome. Find a group that meets in your area, or explore online discussion boards.

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: December 13, 2017 | Last Modified: December 13, 2017

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