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In this review, I focus on the extreme of the short bowel syndrome where the loss of intestine is so great that patients cannot survive without intravenous feeding. This condition is termed short bowel intestinal failure. The review outlines the principles behind diagnosis, assessing prognosis and management. The advent of intravenous feeding (parenteral nutrition) in the 1970s enabled patients with massive (>90%) bowel resection to survive for the first time and to be rehabilitated back into normal life.

To achieve this, central venous catheters were inserted preferably into the superior vena cava and intravenous infusions were given overnight so that the catheter could be sealed by day in order to maximize ambulation and social integration. However, quality of life has suffered by the association of serious complications related to permanent catheterization – mostly in the form of septicemias, thrombosis, metabolic intolerance and liver failure – from the unphysiological route of nutrient delivery. This has led to intense research into restoring gut function. In addition to dietary modifications and therapeutic suppression of motility, novel approaches have been aimed at enhancing the natural adaptation process, first with recombinant growth hormone and more recently with gut-specific glucagon-like peptide-2 analogues, e.g. teduglutide. These approaches have met with some success, reducing the intravenous caloric needs by approximately 500 kcal/day. In controlled clinical trials, teduglutide has been shown to permit >20% reductions in intravenous requirements in over 60% of patients after 6 months of treatment. Some patients have been weaned, but more have been able to drop infusion days. The only approach that predictably can get patients with massive intestinal loss completely off parenteral nutrition is small bowel transplantation, which, if successful (1-year survival for graft and host >90%) is accompanied by dramatic improvements in quality of life.


O’Keefe, S.J. (2015) Nutritional Issues in the Short Bowel Syndrome – Total Parenteral Nutrition, Enteral Nutrition and the Role of Transplantation. Nestlé Nutrition Institute Workshop Series. 82, p.75-90.

DOI: 10.1159/000382005.

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