Symptoms & Causes of Short Bowel Syndrome
What are the symptoms of short bowel syndrome?
Malabsorption can cause symptoms such as
Digestive tract complications of short bowel syndrome can make symptoms of malabsorption worse and cause additional symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, or gas.
Short bowel syndrome can lead to dehydration, which means your body doesn’t have enough fluids and electrolytes to work properly. Without treatment, dehydration can lead to problems such as organ damage, shock, coma, or even death.
People should seek medical care right away if they have symptoms of dehydration, such as
- dark-colored urine or urinating less than usual
- decreased skin turgor, meaning that when you pinch and release someone’s skin, it doesn’t flatten back to normal right away
- extreme thirst and dry mouth
- feeling tired, light-headed, or dizzy or fainting
- sunken eyes or cheeks
Infants and young children may have the symptoms above, as well as signs such as
- no wet diapers for 3 or more hours
- no tears when crying
What causes short bowel syndrome?
Short bowel syndrome is most often caused by surgery to remove part of the small intestine, called a small bowel resection. People may need a small bowel resection to treat a variety of diseases and conditions. Less commonly, short bowel syndrome may have other causes.
Infants and young children
In infants and young children, short bowel syndrome most often occurs after surgery to treat
- necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition in which the wall of the small or large intestine suffers serious damage
- birth defects that affect the small intestine, such as
Older children and adults
In older children and adults, short bowel syndrome most often occurs after surgery to treat
- Crohn’s disease
- inflammation in the small intestine caused by radiation therapy to treat cancer
- lack of blood flow to the intestines
- severe injury
Other causes of short bowel syndrome
Infants born with a small intestine that is not as long as normal may have short bowel syndrome.
Short bowel syndrome may also occur in people who have a diseased or damaged small intestine that can’t absorb enough nutrients to maintain health or to support growth in children.
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.