Short Bowel Syndrome


Short bowel syndrome is a complication that can occur in people who have a large part or all of their small intestine removed.

The Small Intestines

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Causes    TOP

Short bowel syndrome occurs when half or more of the small intestine is removed. It reduces the absorption of vitamins and minerals from food.

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your chance of short bowel syndrome include:

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms of short bowel syndrome may include:

Diagnosis    TOP

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Blood tests may also be performed to check for nutritional and absorption problems.

Treatment    TOP

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:


If you are malnourished, your doctor may give you food, fluid, and electrolytes through an IV. You will be advised to gradually increase your caloric intake and avoid certain foods. Initially, your diet will be high-protein, low-fat, and lactose-free.


In addition to changing your diet, you may need to take vitamin and mineral supplements. Antidiarrheal medications and medications that slow the contraction and relaxation of the intestinal muscles can also slow your digestion so you can absorb more nutrients. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe an H2 antagonist, a proton pump inhibitor, cholestyramine, and/or octreotide.

Surgery    TOP

Transplantation of small bowel is an option for those who cannot maintain their nutritional status with other treatments.

Prevention    TOP

There are no current guidelines to prevent short bowel syndrome.


Gastro—American Gastroenterological Association
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse


Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation


Short bowel syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated April 24, 2013. Accessed May 23, 2013.
Short bowel syndrome. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:
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Updated April 30, 2012. Accessed May 23, 2013.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 5/7/2014