Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS) | Symptoms and Causes

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What are the symptoms of short bowel syndrome?

The symptoms of short bowel syndrome (SBS) are essentially all those associated with the inability to absorb nutrients from food (malabsorption), including:

  • weight loss/failure to gain weight
  • dehydration
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal bloating
  • fatigue

In addition to preventing the intestine from absorbing nutrients, SBS poses another problem, too. If your child doesn’t have enough small intestine, the remaining part tries to fix the problem on its own. It puffs up like a balloon, creating more surface area to draw in nutrients. The wider the intestine, the longer it takes for the body to move nutrients through it. More time in the intestines means more time for the bacteria that would normally be swept promptly along to multiply, increasing your child’s chance of infection, known as small bowel bacterial overgrowth.

What are the causes of short bowel syndrome?

SBS is caused by an insufficient length of small intestine. There are several reasons why SBS may occur:

  • Surgery: During surgery to correct an intestinal defect (such as intestinal atresia or stenosis), remove an intestinal obstruction or fix a volvulus due to intestinal malrotation, doctors are always extremely careful to remove no more of your child’s small intestine than absolutely necessary. But sometimes fixing the problem requires the removal of a length of intestine that compromises the ability to absorb enough nutrients through them.
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC): NEC is an illness that damages the intestinal tissues in babies and can lead to holes or areas of narrowing (strictures) in the intestines.
  • Other causes: These may include a traumatic injury to the small bowel that requires that it be removed, often caused by Crohn’s disease or gastroschisis.
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