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Dealing With Short-Bowel Syndrome as an Adult

Author
Amanda Turner
May 11, 2022

Short-bowel syndrome is a digestive condition that can affect infants, children, and adults. Short-bowel syndrome, or SBS, describes several conditions that can occur to a person after they’ve had surgery to remove a part of their intestines. 

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In many cases, SBS occurs in infants and children after they’ve had to have a part of their intestine removed due to necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition that has been linked with drinking certain types of infant formula. When SBS develops at a young age, it can continue into adulthood. 

Here, we’ll explore what life is like for adults living with SBS.

What Causes Short Bowel Syndrome?

There are many different factors that can result in the symptoms classified as short bowel syndrome in adults. Any time a part of the intestines need to be surgically removed, the development of short bowel syndrome is a possibility. Blocked blood vessels (also known as ischemia), injury to the digestive system, weight loss surgery, cancer, and Crohn's disease are all possible causes of SBS.

In addition to these causes, some adults have SBS as a result of developing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) as infants. NEC causes parts of the small intestine to die. Often, surgery is required to remove the dead or damaged tissue to preserve the health of the rest of the digestive system. 

Diagnosing SBS In Adults

There is not one test for short bowel syndrome. People who suspect they may have SBS after having part of their intestines surgically removed should work with their healthcare provider to discuss their condition and symptoms. 

Even though there is no test to diagnose short bowel syndrome, your healthcare provider will work closely to understand more about what’s causing your digestive issues. They may run blood tests to help them understand how well your digestive system is pulling nutrients from your food. They may also run stool tests to help them understand whether your body is capable of absorbing fat from your body, and they may perform an X-ray or scan to learn more about your digestive system.

Symptoms Of SBS

Most importantly, your doctor will want to know about the digestive symptoms you’re experiencing to help them understand whether you have SBS. 

SBS can look different from person to person. Some possible symptoms of SBS include:

  • Frequent, persistent diarrhea
  • Sensitivities to new foods
  • Weight loss despite eating enough to maintain a healthy weight
  • Dehydration due to problems with liquids being absorbed by the body
  • Heartburn
  • Bloating, gas, and cramping
  • Fatigue due to nutritional deficiencies and dehydration

Managing Short Bowel Syndrome

It can be scary to learn that your body is struggling to absorb the water and nutrients that it needs from foods. Thankfully, SBS is manageable. You may need to change your lifestyle in order to help your body function at a higher level, but working closely with your healthcare provider can help you strategize how to change your diet and activity so that you can live a healthier, happier life with SBS. 

Some people find that they experience severe SBS symptoms just after surgery. For some, these symptoms fade over time. Generally, the larger the portion of the intestines that have been removed, the more severe the symptoms of SBS. 

Many people who have a portion of their small intestine removed get parenteral nutrition, which involves getting nutrients through a catheter placed into a vein. Generally, people transition to other types of feeding after surgery, eventually returning to eating small meals orally. For some people with SBS, long-term parenteral nutrition is required. 

Your doctor will work closely with you to monitor how your body is absorbing nutrients, and to decide whether your SBS is progressing. Your doctor may recommend a small intestine transplant, or may talk with you about other surgeries that could ease your symptoms. 

Not all cases of SBS require surgery. Your doctor may prescribe proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers to decrease the amount of acid in your stomach. They may also recommend anti-diarrheal medications, electrolyte solutions, supplements, and other medications that can protect the liver and help the small intestine adapt to its new state.

What Can Happen If SBS Is Left Untreated?

If you’re living with SBS, it’s important that you get the treatment you need so that your body can absorb the necessary nutrients to function. Untreated SBS can lead to acute symptoms including nutrient deficiencies, weight loss, dehydration, and malnutrition. 

Some long-term consequences of SBS are more complicated, and can include kidney stones, bacterial overgrowth, gallstones, gallbladder disease, liver disease, anxiety, depression, and death.

Did Your Baby Develop SBS After Drinking Infant Formula?

If your baby or child has developed short-bowel syndrome after a diagnosis of necrotizing enterocolitis that you suspect may be a result of infant formula use, you’re not alone. You may be entitled to compensation that can help cover the medical expenses that your child may face for the rest of their life. We’re here to help. Reach out to us today for a free case evaluation.

Free Case Evaluation

If your child was diagnosed with NEC, Select Justice can help you fight for your rights and compensation.

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