Short Bowel Syndrome in Infants

May 19, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Whether related to a birth defect or surgery, short bowel syndrome in infants is a condition that can bring a range of questions on treatment and care for the parents and families affected. While short bowel syndrome can have significant challenges in meeting feeding and nutritional requirements, this condition is often manageable.

This helpful overview shares important information about short bowel syndrome, including the causes, symptoms, and treatments, to provide your child with the best care.

What is Short Bowel Syndrome?

Short bowel syndrome, or short gut, refers to any condition that causes the small intestine to be too short to absorb nutrients properly. Although it is called the small intestine, this part of the digestive system is actually very long. In an adult, the small intestine averages 22 feet.

The small intestine’s role is to slowly absorb nutrients, including fat, protein, sugar, and vitamins, along with water after food leaves the stomach and before it enters the large intestine. When the small intestine is too short, food passes through too quickly, and the body cannot adequately absorb these essential nutrients.

How Short Bowel Syndrome Affects the Body

Short bowel syndrome can have a negative effect on the body, causing digestive problems, dehydration, and nutritional deficits. This can cause malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances, weight loss, and developmental issues.

Causes of Short Bowel Syndrome

Short bowel syndrome is usually related to one of two primary causes:

  • Part of the small intestine has been removed from surgery: Conditions such as Crohn’s disease, cancer, injuries, and arterial blood clots can damage the small intestine and require surgery to remove. Despite the necessity of the surgery, the resulting shorter small intestine can lead to shortened bowel syndrome.
  • Birth defectsBabies are born with a shorter than normal small intestine or a condition that damages it, such as Hirschsprung’s Disease, intestinal atresia, or intestinal malrotation.

When short bowel syndrome is present in infants, it can be due to a birth defect or because of an emergency that develops in the hospital.

Short Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

The most common symptoms and signs of short bowel syndrome to watch for include:

  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea and loose stools
  • Stool with a greasy and bad-smelling composition
  • Weight loss, or inability to gain weight in infants
  • Malnourishment despite feeding
  • Fatigue

Short Bowel Syndrome Complications

When left untreated, complications of short bowel syndrome can include organ failure, including kidney failure due to electrolyte imbalance, failure to thrive, and developmental problems. Short bowel syndrome in infants can be life-threatening in the most severe cases.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Short Bowel Syndrome?

If symptoms of short bowel syndrome are present, a physician can take the following steps to confirm the condition:

  • Discussion of specific symptoms and activity level
  • Physical examination
  • Review of medical history and family medical history
  • Blood and/or stool testing to measure nutrient levels
  • Diagnostic imagery to show the length or condition of the small intestine, such as X-ray with contrast materials, computerized tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imagery (MRI)

Upon diagnosis of short bowel syndrome in an infant, parents can work with providers to develop a treatment plan based on the severity and type of the condition.

Treating Short Bowel Syndrome

Treatment for short bowel syndrome in infants highly depends on how short the patient’s small intestine is and how much nutritional deficiency occurs. In some situations, the small intestine can adapt over time and become more efficient at absorbing nutrients. However, children will generally need long-term follow-up care to monitor the condition. As children get older, they may require nutritional supplements or have certain dietary requirements.

Treatments for short bowel syndrome in infants include:

  • Partial or total parenteral nutrition, which involves providing basic or supplemental nutrition intravenously
  • Enteral nutrition, which involves providing basic nutrition or supplemental nutrition through a feeding tube
  • Medications to treat symptoms or improve digestion
  • Surgery to improve intestinal function or increase intestinal length

Caring for a Child With Short Bowel Syndrome

Like other conditions, infants with short bowel syndrome benefit from calm and caring environments. Babies need to get plenty of rest and stay as active as possible. Speak to your pediatrician about any concerns, and follow all instructions and care plans, including postoperative care, if your child has undergone surgery.

For many families, pediatric home health services are crucial at every stage of treatment for short bowel syndrome. From medication administration to feeding assistance to accompanying your child to follow-up appointments, a qualified pediatric home health registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) can provide the care your little one deserves.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer support one-on-one in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.