Short bowel syndrome

Specialty of Gastroenterology

What is it?

Short-bowel syndrome (SBS) or short gut syndrome is a disorder caused by a functional loss of a portion of the small intestine - a fundamental organ for the absorption of nutrient substances during the digestive process. This in turn causes poor absorption of nutrients from food. SBS may derive from the surgical removal of the intestine, or it may be due to severe intestinal conditions.

What are the symptoms of short-bowel syndrome?

The main symptoms of SBS are:

  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pain
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • foul smelling stools
  • bloating

How is it diagnosed?

SBS is usually diagnosed after a surgery to the intestine or alongside a diagnosis of an intestinal disorder.

What causes short-bowel syndrome?

SBS can be caused by conditions such as Crohn’s disease, actinic enteritis or by neoplasms. In some cases, SBS can also be congenital: some babies are born with a shorter intestine, compared to the normal size of an infant’s intestine.

How is it treated?

Treatment can include:

  • Dietary management: eating small meals through the day and taking extra nutrients
  • Drugs to slow down food as travels through the intestines;
  • In severe cases, total parenteral nutrition (TPN): delivery of nutrients intravenously if you are unable to digest enough nutrients through your intestines
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