Pediatric Short Bowel Syndrome Clinical Presentation

Updated: May 23, 2019
  • Author: Carmen Cuffari, MD; Chief Editor: Jatinder Bhatia, MBBS, FAAP  more...
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The history of a patient with short bowel syndrome (SBS) is typically of a child who was born with a congenital anomaly, such as an omphalocele, gastroschisis, or intestinal atresia, and who required a small-bowel resection. In addition, premature infants with necrotizing enterocolitis and require extensive bowel resection with or without the loss of the ileocecal junction also contribute to this patient population. [2]

Other patients present with a past medical history of intestinal ischemia from malrotation and volvulus that required intestinal resection. Congenital short bowel syndrome is a rare cause of short bowel syndrome. Over the last several years, the authors have noted numerous patients with short bowel syndrome associated with cloacal exstrophy. Although these children do not have short bowel syndrome in the classical sense, they behave clinically with all signs and symptoms associated with functional intestinal failure.

Children with short bowel syndrome may present with various medical issues, depending on the extent of their bowel resection and the level of medical complexity. The history should consider all the potential clinical ramifications of managing cases of short bowel syndrome, including those outlined below.

Parenteral nutrition

  • The degree of home nutrition support necessary in the management of a child on total parenteral nutrition (TPN) is noteworthy.

  • Guidelines for the safe use of parenteral nutrition have been established by the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. [12]

  • Patients may present with issues entirely separate from the medical problems related to short bowel syndrome, including problems associated with intravenous access, infection, and signs and clinical symptoms associated with TPN-related liver disease.

Enteral nutrition

  • Quickly initiate enteral feeding for all children with short bowel syndrome.

  • Once again, patients may present with a history entirely separate from the medical problems related to short bowel syndrome, including gastrostomy or nasogastric tube issues. For example, gastrostomy tubes may accidentally fall out. In these patients, the immediate replacement of these tubes is important in maintaining the patency of the tube entry site.

  • Although complications are uncommon, be aware of potential gastric ulceration, gastrostomy tube migrations, and intestinal obstruction, which all may be associated with bilious vomiting and the risk for pancreatitis.


  • Closely monitor all children on long-term enteral and parenteral nutrition for specific nutritional issues.

  • Patients may present with various symptoms related to specific nutritional deficiency, including specific vitamin (or mineral) deficiencies and the related signs, symptoms, and electrolyte abnormalities and their potential complications.

Medical and surgical histories

Obtain a detailed account of the patient's past medical and surgical histories, including the following:

  • The pathology leading up to the surgical resection

  • The extent and location of bowel resection, the presence or absence of the ileocecal valve

  • Medical complications

  • TPN dependency

  • Enteral nutrition

  • Enteral access

  • Type of nutritional formula used

  • Nutritional supplements

  • Medications

  • Allergies

History of complications associated with short bowel syndrome


Physical Examination

During the physical examination, pay close attention to the following clinical signs:

  • Vitals

  • State of hydration

  • State of nutrition, as measured by a patient's weight for height and anthropometric measurements

  • Signs of sepsis

  • Form of nutritional therapy used in the patient (eg, central line access or enteral access)

  • Specific clinical signs of nutritional deficiency

  • Signs of liver disease