Short Bowel Syndrome

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Definition & Facts

Short bowel syndrome is a condition that develops when the small intestine, also called the small bowel, is shortened or damaged and cannot absorb enough nutrients from the foods you eat to maintain health.

Patient speaking with a doctor.

Symptoms & Causes

In people with short bowel syndrome, malabsorption causes symptoms such as diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss. Short bowel syndrome most often occurs in people who had surgery to remove part of the small intestine, called small bowel resection.


Your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms, perform a physical exam, and order tests to diagnose short bowel syndrome, find out how severe it is, and check for complications. Tests may include blood tests, stool tests, and imaging tests.


Treatments for short bowel syndrome may include nutrition support, fluids and electrolytes, medicines, and surgery. The goals of treatment are to make sure you get enough nutrients, prevent complications, and reduce your need for parenteral nutrition.

Eating, Diet, & Nutrition

If you have short bowel syndrome, talk with your doctor about what you should eat and drink. Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian to help you plan a healthy diet. Health care professionals will recommend a diet that’s right for you.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) conducts and supports clinical trials in many diseases and conditions, including digestive diseases. The trials look to find new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease and improve quality of life.

Related Diagnostic Tests

Your Digestive System & How It Works

The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract—also called the digestive tract—and the liver, pancreas, and the gallbladder. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus.

Last Reviewed April 2023

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

NIDDK would like to thank:
Michael A. Helmrath, M.D., Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center