Your bowels are made up of two parts — the large intestine, also called the colon, and the small intestine.

Short bowel syndrome usually affects people who’ve had a lot of their small intestine removed. Without this part, your body can’t get enough nutrients and water from the food you eat. This causes bowel troubles, like diarrhea, which can be dangerous if you go without treatment.

Over time, your body may adjust to having a shorter small intestine, and you may be able to take fewer medicines. The key is to stick to your treatment plan and get the support you need.

The main symptom of short bowel syndrome is diarrhea that doesn’t go away. You or your child may also have:

  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

Since your body has trouble getting nutrients and vitamins from food, it can also cause:

  • Anemia (not enough red blood cells)
  • Easy bruising
  • Bone pain and osteoporosis (thinning and fragile bones)
  • Trouble eating certain foods


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.



Treatment has two goals: to ease symptoms and give you enough vitamins and minerals. The kind of treatment you get depends on how severe your condition is.

  • For mild cases, you may need to have several small meals a day, along with extra fluids, vitamins, and minerals. Your doctor will probably also give you medicine for diarrhea.
  • Treatment is the same for moderate cases, but from time to time, you may need extra fluids and minerals through an IV.
  • For more serious cases, you may get an IV feeding tube instead of eating meals. Or, you may have a tube placed directly into your stomach or small intestine. If your condition improves enough, you can stop the tube feedings.
  • In the most severe cases, people need IV feeding tubes all the time.

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