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Short Bowel Support
A Patient’s Guide to Managing a Short Bowel

Get a complimentary book created by registered dietitian Carol Rees Parrish to help patients understand the workings of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and how to maximize what’s left of theirs.




Acidosis. Abnormally high acidity in the blood.

Adhesions Sections of scar-like tissue that form between two surfaces inside the body, causing organs or tissues to stick together rather than shifting around one another as they typically do.

Arterial. Relating to an artery or blood vessel.

Bacteria. Microorganisms commonly found in the mouth and intestinal tract. Harmful bacteria can cause disease and infection, while good bacteria can help synthesize vitamins.

Bile salts (bile acids). Secreted in the bile, they enhance the digestion of fats.

Bile. Fluid that helps with the digestion of fats in the small intestine. Bile is produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder.

Bowel. Another name for the intestine. The small intestine is sometimes called the small bowel, and the large intestine is sometimes called the large bowel.

Carbohydrate. One of the three main classes of food and a source of energy in the body.

Catheter. A thin, flexible tube inserted into the body to allow the introduction or withdrawal of fluids.

Cecum (see-kum).The cecum is the first part of the large intestine. Shaped like a pouch, the cecum accepts chyme from the small intestine.

Cholecystokinin, or CCK. A hormone that plays a key role in the digestion within the small intestine. It is secreted by the mucosal cells of the first part of the small intestine (see duodenum) and stimulates the delivery of digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the gallbladder.

Cholestasis. A condition where bile cannot flow from the liver to the duodenum.

Chronic. Typically associated with conditions, illnesses and diseases that continue or persist over an extended period of time. A chronic condition is usually long lasting and does not easily or quickly go away.

Chyme (kime). Partially digested food that passes from the stomach to the small intestine.

Cirrhosis. A scarring of the liver resulting in poor liver function.

Colon. The long, muscular tube connecting the small intestine to the rectum. The colon removes water from waste material before it is eliminated through the rectum.

Congenital short bowel. An uncommon birth defect in which the bowel is abnormally short.

Congenital. Occurring from birth.

Dehydration. Occurs when the body does not have as much water and fluids as it needs. Dehydration can be caused by losing too much fluid, not drinking enough water or fluids or both. Vomiting and diarrhea are common causes.

Diarrhea. A loose, watery and frequent stool. Diarrhea is considered chronic when you have had loose or frequent stools for more than 4 weeks.

Digestive system (also known as gastrointestinal system). The digestive system begins with the mouth, leads to the esophagus, goes through the stomach and intestines and ends at the anus. During the journey, food is broken down and nutrients are absorbed.

Duodenum (doo-od-de-num).The short, funnel-like sac at the beginning of the small intestine that accepts chyme from the stomach to begin absorption.

Embolism. Blockage of a blood vessel by foreign matter or a blood clot.

Endocrine. Referring to the release of compounds inside the body, like hormones, that carry out specific functions in the body. The endocrine system is a system of glands, each of which secretes hormones that regulate the body.

Enteral. A term used to describe the intestines or other portions of the digestive system.

Enzyme. A special chemical in the body necessary to perform specific functions, like digesting food.

Fatigue. A feeling of lack of energy or motivation.

Fatty acid. A component of fat, one of the three main classes of food and a source of energy in the body.

Flatulence. The state of having excessive stomach or intestinal gas. Flatulence can result in uncomfortable feelings of bloating, as well as increased belching (burping) or passing of gas from the rectum.

Gallbladder. A pear-shaped organ that sits between the liver and stomach. The gallbladder stores bile from the liver and secretes it whenever fat is consumed.

Gastric acid (gastric juice). A liquid secreted by the stomach that helps to break down food.

Gastric emptying. The emptying of food from the stomach into the intestine. When food is emptied too quickly, it can have a negative effect on absorption.

Gastrin. A hormone that causes the stomach to produce acid for breaking down and digesting foods.

Gastrointestinal (GI). Relating to the stomach and intestines.

Gastrointestinal system (also known as digestive system). The gastrointestinal system begins with the mouth, leads to the esophagus, goes through the stomach and intestines and ends at the anus. During the journey, food is broken down and nutrients absorbed.

Gastroschisis (gas-tros-ka-sis). A birth defect requiring surgical resection. Gastroschisis is a type of hernia in which the intestine develops outside the abdomen through an opening in the abdominal wall.

GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) regulates blood glucose levels by enhancing post-prandial insulin synthesis and secretion.

GLP-2 (glucagon-like peptide-2) regulates intestinal mucosal function and morphology.

Hernia. The rupture of an organ or tissue through the wall that normally contains it.

Hydrochloric acid. An ingredient in gastric acid. Hydrochloric acid is secreted by the stomach to break down food.

Hyperglycemia. An abnormally high level of sugar in the blood that can lead to a number of complications, including heart disease, foot problems, blindness, and kidney disease.

Hypoglycemia. The abnormally low level of sugar in the blood that can result in seizures, coma, shaking and muscle pain.

Ileocecal valve (ill-ee-o-see-cal).This valve connects the ileum from the small intestine to the cecum of the large intestine. The ileocecal valve plays a vital role in preventing bacteria in the large intestine from getting into the small intestine. The valve also holds chyme in the small bowel, allowing more time for the absorption of nutrients.

Ileum (ill-ee-um). The last part of the small intestine, located between the jejunum and the ileocecal valve.

Immunosuppressant. A drug that helps prevent organ rejection after transplant surgeries.

Inflammation. Redness, swelling or pain. People with Crohn's disease have ongoing (chronic) inflammation that may occur in any area of the digestive system.

Intestinal atresia. A malformation in which there is a narrowing or absence of a portion of the intestine. This defect can either occur in the small or large intestine.

Intestinal mucosa. The inner surface lining of the intestine where villi and microvilli absorb nutrients into the bloodstream.

Intestinal stenosis. A constriction of the bowel lumen as a result of incomplete aplasia, cicatricial contraction after injury or infection, that leads to a syndrome of chronic or intermittent subacute abdominal pain.

Intestinal transplant. An operation that replaces a diseased small intestine with a healthy one from another person or animal.

Intestinal villi. Small fingerlike structures on the inside wall of the small intestine. Tiny pieces of nutrients attach to these structures. These nutrients are absorbed through the villi walls and enter the bloodstream.

Intestine. Part of the digestive system responsible for absorbing nutrients from food and processing waste for elimination. The intestines are divided into two parts, the small intestine and the large intestine (colon).

Intravenous. Administered by injection or infusion into a vein.

Jejunoileal atresia (je-joo-no-il-e-al a-tre-zha). An intestinal complication in which part of the small intestine (the jejunum or ileum) is closed or obstructed.

Jejunum (je-joo-num). The middle part of the small intestine, located between the duodenum and the ileum, and responsible for absorbing proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

Kidney stone. Kidney stones are related to the reduced absorption of calcium, fats and bile salts and results in a small, hard mass that forms inside the kidney.

Large intestine (large bowel). Is the last structure to process food, taking the undigestible matter from the small intestine, absorbing water from it and leaving the waste product called feces. Feces are expelled from the body through the rectum and the anus.

Liver. The largest solid organ in the body, the liver secretes juices that break down food and filters impurities in the bloodstream.

Liverintestinal transplant. An operation that replaces a diseased small intestine and a diseased liver with healthy organs from another person.

Lumen. The inner open space or cavity of a tubular organ, such as that of a blood vessel or bowel.

Malabsorption. Difficulty digesting or absorbing nutrients from food.

Mesenteric vein (mes-en-ter-ik). One of the two veins that drains blood from the intestine.

Microvilli. Tiny fingerlike structures on intestinal villi that create a large surface area to maximize absorption of nutrients. Each villi contains approximately 500 smaller microvilli. Nutrients are absorbed through their walls and enter the bloodstream.

Motility. Movement; gastrointestinal motility refers to the movement of food and water through the digestive tract.

Mucosa. The moist tissue that lines some organs and body cavities (like your nose). The tissue that lines the innermost layer of the intestine is called intestinal mucosa.

Mucosal surface. The exposed surface inside of the intestine where absorption occurs.

Necrotizing enterocolitis. Necrotizing enterocolitis, also called NEC, is an inflammation or infection of the intestine that causes damage to bowel tissue in premature infants. This condition generally occurs in the first two weeks of life after oral feeding has been introduced into the diet.

Omphalocele (om-fah-lo-seal). A birth defect in which the intestine, liver and sometimes other organs remain outside of the abdomen in a sac because the muscles in the abdominal wall failed to develop properly.

Osteomalacia (os-teo-mal-a-she-a). A disease that weakens bones and can cause them to break more easily. Osteomalacia develops because of a lack of vitamin D.

Osteoporosis. A disease that causes bone loss and increases the risk of fracture.

Ostomy. Refers to a surgically created opening in the body for the discharge of body wastes.

Pancreas. A long, irregularly shaped gland behind the stomach that secretes digestive enzymes into the duodenum.

Parenteral nutrition. Liquid food delivered through a catheter directly into the bloodstream, instead of through the stomach, small intestine and colon.

Parenteral. Taken into the body in a way other than through the digestive system, such as directly into the bloodstream through a vein.

Peristalsis (per-i-stol-sis). A series of muscle contractions that cause a narrowing that pushes food and fluids (chyme) along the digestive tract.

Pituitary gland. A long, oval-shaped organ sitting at the base of the brain that produces hormones, including human growth hormone. It is sometimes called the master gland because it secretes hormones that influence other functions in the body.

Protein. One of the three main classes of food, proteins help the body repair cells and produce new ones.

Radiation therapy. Treatment of a disease (especially cancer) by exposure to a radioactive substance.

Rehydration. The process of restoring lost fluids to the body. Rehydration can be done by drinking or by intravenous administration.

Renal. Relating to the kidney or the area surrounding it.

Resection. Removal of all or part of an organ or tissue, followed by joining (“resecting”) the remaining parts together.

Saline. A sterile solution of sodium chloride (salt) used to dilute intravenous medications.

Scurvy. A disease caused by deficiency of vitamin C, characterized by spongy and bleeding gums, bleeding under the skin, and extreme weakness.

Secretin. A hormone that causes the pancreas and bile ducts to release a substance that neutralizes acid in the small intestine when it receives too much acid from the stomach.

Short bowel syndrome. Malabsorption from the small intestine that is marked by diarrhea and malnutrition that results from resection of the small intestine.

Small intestine (small bowel). Is the longest portion of the digestive tract and is located within the middle of the abdomen. It has three sections, the duodenum, jejunum and ileum

Steatosis. The buildup of fat in liver cells.

STEP. The serial transverse enteroplasty, or STEP, procedure for short bowel syndrome. The bowel is stapled into “v” shapes on alternating sides, decreasing its width and increasing its length.

Stoma. An opening into the body from the outside created by a surgeon. In an intestinal stoma, the lining of the intestine (mucosa) is brought through the abdominal wall.

Thrombosis. The formation or presence of a blood clot (blockage) in a blood vessel.

Ureter. The tubes that take urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

Vascular. Relating to blood vessels.

Venous access sites. The 4 to 6 locations on a body suitable for inserting a catheter.

Volvulus. A twisting of the intestine causing a blockage that may cut off blood flow and damage tissue in the intestine. Surgery is often required to untwist the intestine.