Short bowel syndrome


Short bowel syndrome is a condition in which the body cannot absorb enough nutrients from foods because part of the small intestine is missing or damaged.

The small intestine is where most of the nutrients you eat are absorbed into your body during digestion.

Short bowel syndrome can happen when:

  • Parts of the small intestine have been surgically removed. Conditions that may require surgical removal of large portions of the small intestine include Crohn's disease, cancer, traumatic injuries and blood clots in the arteries that provide blood to the intestines.
  • Portions of the small intestine are missing or damaged at birth. Babies may be born with a short small intestine or with a damaged small intestine that must be surgically removed.

Short bowel syndrome treatment typically involves special diets and nutritional supplements. It may involve receiving nutrition through a vein, called parenteral nutrition, to prevent malnutrition.


Common symptoms of short bowel syndrome may include:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Greasy, foul-smelling stools.
  • Fatigue.
  • Weight loss.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Swelling, called edema, in the legs and feet.


Causes of short bowel syndrome include having parts of your small intestine removed during surgery, or being born with some of the small intestine missing or damaged. Conditions that may require surgical removal of portions of the small intestine include Crohn's disease, cancer, injuries and blood clots.


To diagnose short bowel syndrome, a healthcare professional may recommend blood or stool tests to measure nutrient levels. Other tests may include imaging procedures, such as an X-ray with a contrast material, called a barium X-ray; CT scan; MRI; and CT or MRI enterography, which can show blockages or changes to the intestines.


Treatment options for short bowel syndrome will depend on what parts of the small intestine are affected, whether the colon is intact and a person's own preferences.

Short bowel syndrome treatment may include:

  • Nutritional therapy. People with small bowel syndrome will need to follow a special diet and take nutritional supplements. Some people may need to get nutrition through a vein, called parenteral nutrition, or a feeding tube, called enteral nutrition. This is to prevent malnutrition.
  • Medicines. In addition to nutritional support, medicines to help manage short bowel syndrome may be recommended. These include medicines to help control stomach acid, reduce diarrhea or improve intestinal absorption after surgery.
  • Surgery. Types of surgery to treat short bowel syndrome include procedures to slow the passage of nutrients through the intestine or a procedure to lengthen the intestine, called autologous gastrointestinal reconstruction. Small bowel transplantation (SBT) also may be an option.

Content From Mayo Clinic Updated: 01/04/2024
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