The small intestine is part of the body's digestive tract. It absorbs fluids and nutrients critical for optimal health, allowing our bodies to thrive. Short bowel syndrome (SBS), also known as short bowel, occurs when a portion of the small intestine is missing or not working properly.
For infants and children, SBS can lead to problems with growth and development as well as life-threatening dehydration and malnutrition, if left untreated.
At Boys Town Hospital, our dietitians, surgeons and child life specialists offer a comprehensive approach to the evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and management of this condition. Our focus is maximizing bowel functions to improve and enrich your child's life.
Causes and Symptoms
SBS can be congenital, meaning portions of the small intestine are missing or damaged at birth. It also can result when sections of the small intestine are surgically removed after injury or illness, such as Crohns's disease and cancer.
Every child is affected differently, and symptoms will vary depending on how much and which part of the small intestine is affected. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Poor appetite (weight loss/inability to gain weight)
- Gas and heartburn
- Abdominal bloating/pain
- Easy bruising
- Kidney stones
- Vitamin/mineral deficiencies
Diagnosis and Treatments
SBS can range from mild to severe, depending on how much of the small intestine is working. To evaluate your child's condition, a physical exam, tests and imaging procedures may be performed, including:
- Basic blood tests
- Fecal fat tests
- Abdominal x-rays and ultrasounds
- MRI and CT scans
- Endoscopic evaluations
The severity of your child's condition will dictate which treatment options are most appropriate. While there is no cure for SBS, symptoms can be effectively managed to prevent unwanted complications. Our treatment options include:
- Special diets
- Vitamin and mineral supplements
- Enteral nutrition (tube feeding directly into the stomach or small intestine)
- Total parenteral nutrition (intravenous feeding that bypasses the gastrointestinal tract)
- Medication (to reduce diarrhea, control stomach secretions and protect the liver)
- Surgery (to extend the working length of the intestine)
Team of Experts
Dr. Kathy Schall, Pediatric General and Thoracic Surgeon, has extensive experience diagnosing and treating children with short bowel syndrome. Together, they lead the Short Bowel Clinic bringing together knowledge, expertise and skill to address your child's unique health needs. More importantly, our team takes pride in treating every child like their own – with compassion, understanding and respect.