UCLA Campus    |   UCLA Health    |   School of Medicine Translate:
UCLA Health It Begins With U

UCLA Transplantation Services


Short Bowel Syndrome

What is Short Bowel Syndrome?


Short bowel syndrome is a general term referring to the loss of absorptive function of the intestinal tract. This results in malabsorption, diarrhea, and malnutrition. So basically, the small intestine and large intestine do not work properly. The small intestine is the most important GI tract organ related to the development of this condition.

There are a variety of causes of short bowel syndrome. The causes can be placed into two broad categories; Surgical/Mechanical causes and Functional disorders. Surgical or mechanical causes are the most common. It often occurs because a doctor has to operate and remove segments of the intestine.

The second category is functional disorders. Functional disorders are problems that arise with the intestines that prevent it from digesting, absorbing and moving food through the intestinal tract. In some cases, patients can have both surgical/mechanical and functional disorders causing short bowel syndrome.

In some cases, short bowel syndrome is temporary. Somehow, the remaining intestine has the ability to adapt to the short bowel syndrome. The remaining small bowel does more work than before and is able to make up for the shorter length of small bowel. Successful adaptation is when a patient can once again digests and absorb all nutrients through their gastrointestinal tract. Adaptation starts very soon after the onset of short bowel syndrome can take several years before it is complete. The potential to adapt depends on a number of factors such as health of patient, age of patient, length of remaining intestine, presence or length of colon, and presence or absence of disease in remaining intestine. Your doctor will advise you on the potential of your intestine to adapt.

Unfortunately, there will be patients who do not adapt from short bowel syndrome. Those patients will require total parenteral nutrition (TPN) for the remainder of their lives to prevent malnutrition and death. When a patient’s intestine does not adapt, it is labeled as intestinal failure.

From Feldman: Sleisenger & Fordtran’s Gastroentestinal and Liver Disease; 7th Edition; Figure 92-1, page 1808; 2002, Elsiever


Intestinal Transplant Links and Downloads

pdf file download What is the Intestine: Introduction to Intestinal Transplantation


The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) provides a toll-free patient services lines to help transplant candidates, recipients, and family members understand organ allocation practices and transplantation data. You may also call this number to discuss problems you may be experiencing with your transplant center or the transplantation system in general. The toll-free patient services line number is 1-888-894-6361




UCLA Rated One of the Top Hospitals in the Nation