Short Bowel Syndrome

What is short bowel syndrome?

Short bowel syndrome is a condition that prevents your intestines from absorbing nutrients. Short bowel syndrome occurs when the intestine is shorter than normal or does not work the way it should.

What causes short bowel syndrome?

You may have been born with a short bowel. Causes include tumors, radiation, infections, surgery to remove part of the intestine, and conditions such as Celiac disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of short bowel syndrome?

Diarrhea is the most common symptom of short bowel syndrome. You may also have any of the following:

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Bloated abdomen

  • Rapid weight loss

  • Fatigue

  • Hair loss

  • Rash around your rectum

How is short bowel syndrome diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your medical history and examine you. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

  • Bowel movement or urine sample: A sample of your bowel movement or urine is sent to a lab for tests. The test may show what germ is causing your illness.

  • Breath test: You breathe into a machine and it measures how well you absorb carbohydrates (sugars). This helps your caregiver know if you have an infection in your intestines.

  • Abdominal x-rays: Caregivers use these pictures of the organs inside your abdomen to find problems such as blocked, shortened, or enlarged intestines.

  • Barium enema: A barium enema is an x-ray of the colon. A tube is put into your anus, and a liquid called barium is put through the tube. Barium is used so that caregivers can see your colon better on the x-ray film.

  • Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy: During both procedures, a tube with a light on the end will be put into your anus, and then moved forward into your intestine. A sigmoidoscopy looks at the lower part of your intestine. A colonoscopy looks at your entire intestine.

How is short bowel syndrome treated?

  • Medicines:

    • Antibiotics: This medicine will help fight or prevent an infection. Take your antibiotics until they are gone, even if you feel better.

    • Diarrhea medicine: This medicine is given to decrease the amount of diarrhea you are having. Some of these medicines coat the intestine and make the bowel movements less watery. Other antidiarrheal medicine works by slowing down how fast the intestine move food through.

    • Antacids: You may need antacids to decrease stomach acid.

    • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.

    • Nutritional supplements: You may need vitamin and mineral supplements because your intestines cannot absorb these nutrients from food.

  • Surgery: You may need surgery if your intestines become blocked or your bowel is very short. Caregivers will lengthen your bowel or remove the blockage. You may need a bowel transplant.

What are the risks of short bowel syndrome?

  • You may need long-term total parenteral nutrition (TPN). This is food in liquid form and is usually given through an IV. TPN can cause liver problems, gallbladder or kidney stones, or bone diseases. If you have surgery, you may bleed, get an infection, or your signs and symptoms can get worse.

  • Without treatment, you may become malnourished and dehydrated. Your remaining bowel will not absorb enough water and nutrients from food. This can cause you to pass out or have seizures. Your kidneys and other organs may not work properly, and this may lead to death. Ask your caregiver if you have questions about these and other risks of short bowel syndrome.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You feel achy, or have chills, weakness, or a cough.

  • Your abdominal pain does not go away, even after treatment.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have severe abdominal pain.

  • Your bowel movements are dark or have blood in them.

  • You feel like you are going to pass out.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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