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Short Bowel Syndrome


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


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

A central line

is an IV catheter or tube. It is put into a large vein (blood vessel) near your collarbone, in your neck, or in your groin. Other central lines, such as a PICC, may be put into your arm. You may need a central line to receive medicines or IV fluids that need to be given through a big vein. You may need a central line if it is hard for healthcare providers to insert a regular IV. A central line can also stay in longer than a regular IV can. Some central lines may also be used to take blood samples.


You may be weighed each day. Healthcare providers compare your weight from day to day to record how much body fluid you have. You can become dehydrated if you lose too much. You can have shortness of breath or swelling in your legs if you retain too much.

Intake and output

may be measured. Healthcare providers will keep track of the amount of liquid you are getting. They also may need to know how much you are urinating. Ask healthcare providers if they need to measure or collect your urine.


A dietitian may talk to you about your feeding and nutrition.

  • If you have no problems eating normally, eat a variety of healthy foods. You may be given soft foods or thickened liquids.
  • You may need total parenteral nutrition (TPN) for a short time. TPN is usually given through a large IV catheter, such as a central line. As you improve and your bowel works better, you may be able to eat normally.


  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Diarrhea medicine: This medicine is given to decrease the amount of diarrhea you are having. Some of these medicines coat the intestine and make bowel movements less watery. Other medicines work by slowing down how fast the intestines move food through.
  • Antacids: You may need antacids to decrease stomach acid.
  • Medicines to treat pain, swelling, or fever: These medicines are safe for most people to use. However, they can cause serious problems when used by people with certain medical conditions. Tell healthcare providers if you have liver or kidney disease or a history of bleeding in your stomach.
  • Nutritional supplements: You may need vitamin and mineral supplements because your intestines cannot absorb these nutrients from food.


  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give healthcare providers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.
  • Blood gases: This is also called an arterial blood gas, or ABG. Blood is taken from an artery (blood vessel) in your wrist, arm, or groin. Your blood is tested for the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in it. The results can tell healthcare providers how well your lungs are working.
  • Abdominal x-rays: Healthcare providers 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 healthcare providers 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.


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


  • 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 healthcare provider if you have questions about these and other risks of short bowel syndrome.


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 healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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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.

Learn more about Short Bowel Syndrome (Inpatient Care)

Associated drugs

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Mayo Clinic Reference Guides (External)

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.