Short bowel syndrome is a condition in which your body is unable to absorb enough nutrients from the foods you eat because you don't have enough small intestine.

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

Short bowel syndrome can occur when:

  • Portions 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 and may require nutrition through a vein (parenteral nutrition) to prevent malnutrition.

  • Teamwork. At Mayo Clinic, digestive specialists (gastroenterologists) and nutrition specialists work as a multidisciplinary team to care for people with short bowel syndrome. Other professionals are included as needed.
  • Experience. Mayo Clinic doctors have extensive experience with short bowel syndrome. Each year, Mayo Clinic doctors care for about 300 people with short bowel syndrome.
  • A full range of treatment options to consider. Mayo Clinic doctors will work with you to review all of your treatment options and choose the treatment that best suits your needs and goals. The treatments offered to people with short bowel syndrome include medications, nutrition counseling and nutritional support, such as parenteral nutrition.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., ranks #1 for digestive disorders in the U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings. Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., is ranked among the Best Hospitals and Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., is ranked high performing for digestive disorders by U.S. News & World Report.

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical institution that reinvests all earnings into improving medical practice, research and education. We're constantly involved in innovation and medical research, finding solutions to improve your care and quality of life. Your doctor or someone on your medical team is likely involved in research related to your condition.

Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care — and trusted answers — like they've never experienced.

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Tests and procedures used to diagnose short bowel syndrome include:

  • Lab tests. Blood tests and stool tests can detect low levels of nutrients and other chemicals related to digestion. Knowing which nutrients your body is deficient in helps guide your treatment.
  • Imaging tests. Imaging tests may be used to assess your small intestine.

Your treatment options for short bowel syndrome will depend on what parts of your small intestine are affected, whether your colon is intact and your own preferences. Your care team will work with you to devise a treatment plan that meets your needs.

Treatments for short bowel syndrome include:

  • Medications. Medications may be used to slow the movement of food through your intestines or make the food you eat more easily digested.
  • Special diets. Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian who can help plan a strategy to get the vitamins and nutrients you need in the food that you eat. You may need to eat significantly more calories every day or take nutritional supplements to get the calories and nutrients you need.
  • Parenteral nutrition. You may receive nutrition through a vein (parenteral nutrition) after surgery to remove your small intestine. But as your remaining intestine recovers and adapts to its new length, you may no longer need it. Some people with severe short bowel syndrome may continue parenteral nutrition indefinitely.

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

Digestive disease specialists (gastroenterologists) work with a team of experts to care for people with short bowel syndrome at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Digestive disease specialists (gastroenterologists) work with a team of experts to care for people with short bowel syndrome at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Digestive disease specialists (gastroenterologists) work with a team of experts to care for people with short bowel syndrome at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Doctors who specialize in digestive diseases in children (pediatric gastroenterologists) care for children with short bowel syndrome.

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See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Mayo Clinic doctors and scientists are working to improve the diagnosis and treatment of short bowel syndrome. Read more about gastroenterology research.

See a list of publications by Mayo Clinic authors on short bowel syndrome on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Apr. 08, 2014