Short Bowel Syndrome

Short bowel syndrome occurs in babies when the small intestine is too short or too damaged to absorb nutrition. Babies need nutrients from milk and food to grow, develop and be healthy overall.

    Remarkable care for kids

    • Surgical excellence: Pediatric surgeons at Rush University Children’s Hospital specialize in surgically treating short bowel syndrome to help prevent blockages, lengthen the small intestine and in creating alternative ways to provide nutrition such as a feeding tube and/or central blood catheter placement.
    • Tailored nutritional support: Pediatric dietitians work closely with pediatric gastroenterologists and pediatric surgeons to create a personalized nutrition plan that will give your child the fluids and nutrition they need to maintain their health with short bowel syndrome. This may include special IV fluids that provide nutritional feeding tube, such as a g tube through which a nutritionally complete formula can be given or special diets.
    • Expert prenatal diagnosis and support: The Rush Fetal and Neonatal Medicine Center offers diagnosis, support and care for congenital short bowel syndrome. The center’s specialized team will provide you with evaluation and treatment during your pregnancy and after your baby is born. They are dedicated to providing the advanced care you need to ensure the best possible outcomes for you and your baby.
    • Immediate care after birth: Newborns with congenital short bowel syndrome sometimes need immediate medical attention after birth. The Renée Schine Crown Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Rush is located next to labor and delivery, allowing neonatal intensive care specialists to care for your child seconds after delivery.
    • Care close to home: Pediatric gastroenterologists and pediatric surgeons from Rush University Children’s Hospital are available to see patients at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora. Pediatric gastroenterologists are also available to see patients at Rush Oak Park Hospital.

    What is short bowel syndrome?

    Short bowel syndrome occurs for various reasons:

    • Your baby was born with unusually short small intestines, or part of the small intestine is missing.
    • Doctors removed part of your child’s small intestine due to another health problem.
    • Your baby’s small intestine was damaged during a surgical procedure to treat another condition.
    • The movement inside your baby’s small intestine is unusually slow.

    Short bowel syndrome symptoms

    Some babies are born with short bowel syndrome. Others develop it after gastrointestinal surgery for problems like gastroschisis. Your child’s health care team will closely observe your child after gastrointestinal surgery to monitor them for these signs of short bowel syndrome:

    • Diarrhea or loose stools
    • Dehydration (not getting enough fluid)
    • Bloating and gas

    Short bowel syndrome can cause these serious problems for your child:

    • Malnutrition
    • Dehydration (not getting enough fluids)
    • Weak bones
    • Peptic ulcers
    • Kidney stones

    Care for short bowel syndrome at Rush

    Diagnosing short bowel syndrome

    If your child’s clinicians, which may include pediatric surgeons and pediatric gastroenterologists, suspect short bowel syndrome, they may order these one or all of these diagnostic tests:

    • Blood tests
    • Stool tests
    • X-ray of the small and large intestines
    • CT scans

    If your child does have short bowel syndrome, a pediatric gastroenterologist will work with you and your child’s other care providers to develop a treatment plan.

    Treatment for short bowel syndrome

    Pediatric gastroenterologists at Rush work closely with dietitians and pediatric surgeons to determine the best way to treat your child for short bowel syndrome. The treatment will depend on your child’s nutritional needs. 
    Your child’s treatment could include one or more of these approaches:

    Nutrition support

    Nutritional support is the key to making sure your child gets the fluids and nutrition they need. Your child’s care team will use the following nutritional treatments to help your child:

    • Fluids that have salts and minerals, such as Pedialyte or Inflalyte
    • Fluids or nutrition through an IV or feeding tube, such as a gastrostomy tube (or g tube)
    • A special diet that encourages small portions and limits fats

    Medication

    Your child may need medications to do the following:

    • Stop bacterial overgrowth
    • Reduce levels of stomach acid
    • Decrease diarrhea
    • Improve bile flow to prevent liver disease
    • Improve how well small intestine absorbs fluids

    Surgery

    Nearly half of all children with short bowel syndrome will need surgery. Pediatric surgeons at Rush use a variety of approaches to increase how well your child’s small intestine absorbs important nutrients. Surgery can help do the following:

    • Prevent blockages and keep the existing length of the small intestine
    • Lengthen small intestine
    • Widen narrow passageways in the small intestines