What is Short-Bowel Syndrome?

Short Bowel Syndrome

Short-bowel syndrome (SBS) is a rare malabsorption disorder that is caused by a lack of small intestine. It is commonly seen in newborns and babies. The small intestine is responsible for absorbing sugars, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals; it is a very important part of the digestive tract. A child with SBS cannot properly gain essential nutrients, which can lead to severe dehydration and malnutrition. In advanced SBS cases, it can be fatal.

Health care providers must be vigilant in recognizing and treating SBS. If the condition is not treated, it can be life-threatening. There are many treatment options available to SBS patients.

What Causes SBS?

SBS among adults is typically caused after a surgical procedure that removes a large part of the small intestine. An average adult has approximately 20 feet of small intestine; SBS usually occurs when half of that is removed or missing. Part of the intestine might be removed if a patient is suffering from one of more of the following:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Damage from cancer treatment, such as radiation
  • Bowel injury

Additionally, some babies are born with shorter bowels, and some are born with damage to the intestine. Although there are different reasons for a baby to develop SBS, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the most common cause, according to the Cleveland Clinic. NEC is a dangerous condition that causes significant inflammation in the intestines and primarily affects premature newborns and vulnerable babies. Damage from NEC can cause holes to form in the intestines, which causes bacteria to leak and cause an infection. It is deemed as a medical emergency and must be rapidly treated.

Severe damage from NEC can cause a large part of the intestine to be removed. To prevent extensive damage, health care professionals must carefully monitor patients who are susceptible to NEC, such as premature newborns and infants.

What are the Symptoms of SBS?

Most SBS patients first recognize the condition because of consistent diarrhea that does not go away. Since SBS causes malnutrition and dehydration, most of the symptoms are associated with these two afflictions. Some typical symptoms of SBS include the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Gas
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia

It is important that patients get a quick diagnosis to ease symptoms and to prevent the condition from worsening or become life-threatening. A doctor might perform a physical examination, run blood tests, order imaging scans, or even take a biopsy specimen to confirm SBS.

What are Telltale Signs of NEC?

Since NEC is a leading cause of SBS, it is crucial to be aware of the symptoms of both ailments, especially if a newborn is suspected of having a life-threatening condition. The common symptoms of NEC include these concerns:

  • Bloating
  • Discoloration of the abdomen
  • Bloody stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Inability to properly feed
  • Vomiting and green vomit
  • Apnea
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Unstable body temperature

Formula feeding and difficulty during the birthing process are common causes of NEC. Due to these reasons, health care providers have to be extra cautious with fragile newborns, especially those in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).

What are the Treatment Options for SBS Patients?

Most cases of SBS require a team approach for treatment. Many specialists might be involved in the management plan for a SBS patient, such as neonatologists, gastroenterologists, surgeons, nutritionists, nurses, and pharmacists. The main goals of management plans are to make sure the patient is still absorbing important nutrients, minerals, and fluids for survival.

Most patients will have to adhere to diet changes and nutrition plans. Some SBS patients are unable to digest and absorb nutrition on their own. Total parenteral nutrition (TPN) may be given in these circumstances. This is where a tube is inserted for approximately 10 to 12 hours. This approach can be lifesaving for many patients. Some SBS patients may have to remain on this approach indefinitely, despite some medical risks.

There are also surgical treatment options for some SBS patients. Bowel conservation and an intestinal transplant might be viable approaches. Patients will also be given anti-diarrheal medications. With the right treatment plan, a patient can thrive and prognosis is good.

Can SBS be Prevented?

Since NEC is the main cause of SBS, preventing the inflammatory illness from happening will help reduce the risk of developing SBS. Cow-based formulas and fortifiers should be avoided; breast milk is always the best option, especially for newborns.

A difficult delivery can cause many medical issues for the baby. The lack of oxygen during a complicated birth can trigger NEC, SBS, sepsis, and other dangerous illnesses. Health care providers should carefully tend to their pregnant patients and help them with the best delivery plan. Health care providers should be able to reasonably recognize foreseeable complications.

If health care professionals are not careful, NEC can become widespread in NICUs. NEC itself is not contagious, but some viruses and bacteria that cause the condition can be easily passed to an NICU patient.

In cases in which intestinal surgery is needed, health care providers should carefully monitor SBS symptoms. Patients should also be aware of possible complications and outcomes prior to surgery. Patients should freely discuss concerns with their doctors.

If a doctor fails to reasonably observe symptoms of NEC or SBS, misdiagnose a condition, or does not provide proper treatment of an injury or illness results, they may be held liable for medical malpractice. For help discovering whether a patient has a case, they should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer will evaluate if pursuing a medical malpractice case is the best option.

St. Louis NEC Lawyers at The Cates Law Firm, LLC Help Patients Suffering Complications from NEC

In most cases, a health care provider should be able to diagnosis NEC and complications that can result from the condition, such as SBS. If you believe your child developed an illness because of medical negligence, the St. Louis NEC lawyers at The Cates Law Firm, LLC can help with your case. Complete our online form or call us at 618-277-3644 for a free consultation today. We are located in Swansea, Illinois, and we proudly serve clients throughout St. Louis, Belleville, East St. Louis, Edwardsville, Granite City, Waterloo, Chester, Carbondale, St. Clair County, Madison County, Monroe County, Randolph County, and other regions throughout southern Illinois.