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Definition:

Short bowel syndrome is a condition in which nutrients are not properly absorbed (malabsorption ) due to severe intestinal disease or the surgical removal of a large portion of the small intestine.



Alternative Names:

Small intestine insufficiency



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

When areas of the small intestine are removed by surgery, or they are not present due to a defect that occurred before birth (congenital defect), there may not be enough surface area left in the remaining bowel to absorb enough nutrients from food.

This condition is likely to develop when one-half or more of the bowel is removed during surgery. Risk factors include diseases of the small intestine that may require surgery, such as Crohn's disease . Necrotizing enterocolitis is a common cause of this condition in infants.



Symptoms:

Signs and tests:

Treatment:

Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms, and may include:

  • A high-calorie diet that supplies essential vitamins and minerals, as well as certain types of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
  • Some vitamins and minerals may need to be given by injection
  • Treatment for anemia with vitamin B12 , folic acid , and increased dietary iron
  • Medications to slow down the normal movement of the intestine (lengthens the time nutrients spend in the small intestine)
  • Tube feeding through a vein (parenteral nutrition), if normal feeding is not delivering enough nutrients (patients can sometimes return to normal eating once they have stabilized)


Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

The condition may improve over time if it occurs as a result of surgery. There may be a gradual improvement in nutrient absorption.



Complications:
  • Degeneration of the nervous system caused by a lack of vitamin B12 (combined systems disease)
  • Excess acid in the blood (metabolic acidosis )
  • Gallstones
  • Kidney stones
  • Malnutrition
  • Too much growth of bacteria
  • Weakened bones
  • Weight loss


Calling your health care provider:

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you develop symptoms of short bowel syndrome, especially if you recently had bowel surgery.



Prevention:



References:

Semrad CE, Powell DW. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 143.




Review Date: 10/13/2008
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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Wentworth-Douglass Hospital
789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
Toll free: 1 (877) 201-7100