Symptoms & Causes of Short Bowel Syndrome

What are the symptoms of short bowel syndrome?


In people with short bowel syndrome, the small intestine can’t absorb enough nutrients from foods and drinks, a condition called malabsorption.

Malabsorption can cause symptoms such as

  • diarrhea
  • fatigue, or feeling tired
  • loose, greasy, bad-smelling stools
  • weight loss

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
    • gastroschisis, in which an infant has a defect in the abdominal wall and the infant’s intestines are found outside the body
    • intestinal atresia, in which part of the small intestine is completely blocked or missing
    • malrotation that causes midgut volvulus, or twisting of the small intestine
Doctor using a stethoscope to listen to an infant’s abdomen.In infants, short bowel syndrome most often occurs after surgery to treat necrotizing enterocolitis or birth defects.

Older children and adults

In older children and adults, short bowel syndrome most often occurs after surgery to treat

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.

Last Reviewed April 2023
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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.