Intestinal Failure

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Intestinal Failure

Medical & Surgical Expertise for Serious Intestinal Issues

Intestinal failure in children is a very serious, rare and complex situation in which the small intestine doesn’t absorb enough of the fluids, vitamins and minerals the body needs to grow and develop. It’s caused by a number of intestinal problems and can be found in children from birth to the teen years. Early, expert evaluation and treatment is critical.

At Nemours, our pediatric general surgeons and gastroenterologists are highly skilled in caring for children with intestinal failure. Our goal is to do everything in our power to restore your child’s bowel function and provide the independence and confidence for a happy, healthy life.

Intestinal Failure Conditions We Treat

Intestinal failure can be caused by a range of conditions, from short bowel syndrome (a shortened small intestine) to neuromuscular disorders that affect motility (movement of food through the intestine), to several absorption disorders. These include:

  • chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction (intestinal contractions aren’t working)
  • gastroschisis (a hole in the muscles and skin in the abdomen)
  • Hirschsprung disease (blockage caused by improper muscle relaxation in the bowel)
  • inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • intestinal aganglionosis (lack of nerve cells that affects sensation)
  • intestinal atresia (when part of the intestine doesn’t develop properly)
  • microvillus inclusion disease (incomplete development of membranes in the wall of the intestine)
  • necrotizing enterocolitis (when part of the intestine dies due to bacterial infection or inflammation)
  • short bowel syndrome (the most common cause of intestinal failure in children, which happens when half or more of the small intestine is missing)
  • thrombotic disorders (when clots affect blood flow in the intestine)
  • tufting enteropathy (a hereditary disease that affects the tiny villi, or hair-like projections, in the intestines)
  • volvulus (when the intestine is twisted and causes blockage)

Services We Offer for Intestinal Failure

Nemours surgeons and specialists provide expert diagnosis, treatment and ongoing condition management for newborns and kids of all ages. Our first goal is to get your child the proper nutrition, which we do through parenteral and enteral nutrition (intravenous and tube feeding), as well as nutritional management (nutritional assessment to identify the risk of malnutrition, recommendations and changes in the timing, nature and method of feeding).

Then, we’ll help your child’s intestines regain as much ability as possible through a combination of treatments that may include: 

  • ongoing nutritional management 
  • intestinal rehabilitation — the process of gradually restoring, through diet and medicines, the intestine’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients
  • minimally invasive surgery, if necessary (surgeries with smaller incisions resulting in faster healing)

Treating intestinal failure in children involves long-term management from multiple pediatric specialists to help kids gain lifelong health and independence. In addition to nurse care coordinators, social workers and Child Life specialists with special expertise in caring for children with intestinal disorders, your child’s team may also include:

Why Choose Us for Intestinal Failure Care

Our medical, surgical and therapy teams work together closely to offer advanced nonsurgical treatments (nutritional management and intestinal rehabilitation) and leading-edge minimally invasive surgical procedures. In fact, Nemours surgeons are among a very few in the country who perform the innovative and minimally invasive, serial transverse enteroplasty (STEP) bowel lengthening procedure. Our physicians are also consistently named among the Best Doctors in America® year after year, as well as "Top Doctors" by local magazines in our regions. We give you and your family support and guidance to understand your child’s condition, treatments and how to provide care when you get home.

Regional Highlights for Our Intestinal Failure Care

Services, programs, facilities and care teams differ at each location. Call for details.

We offer complete care for children with intestinal failure at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware (Wilmington, Del.).

  • surgeons experienced in intestinal failure procedures — including minimally invasive and traditional (“open”) surgery techniques
  • one of only a few pediatric hospitals in the country to offer the innovative and minimally invasive surgical technique serial transverse enteroplasty (STEP) for short bowel syndrome
  • Nemours Intestinal Failure Treatment program offers the possibility of nonsurgical treatments for children with intestinal failure
  • Ronald McDonald House of Delaware across from our hospital campus, for a convenient home away from home during longer hospital stays

We offer complete care for children with intestinal failure at Nemours Children’s Hospital (Orlando).

  • one of the only children’s hospitals in the Southeast to offer the minimally invasive treatment for short bowel syndrome called serial transverse enteroplasty (STEP)
  • the region’s only coordinated treatment center for pediatric intestinal failure in newborns, children and teenagers
  • Ronald McDonald House right on our campus, for an affordable home away from home during long hospital stays

We offer complete care for children with intestinal failure at Nemours Children's Health, Jacksonville (working with Wolfson Children’s Hospital).

  • specialized expertise with intestinal failure in newborns, children and teenagers
  • surgeries performed at neighbor and collaborating hospital Wolfson Children’s Hospital, with follow-ups after surgery in the hospital and at Nemours Children's Health, Jacksonville 
  • Ronald McDonald House of Jacksonville , for an affordable home away from home during long hospital stays
  • academic and clinical affiliations with the University of Florida College of Medicine–Jacksonville and Mayo Clinic Florida

Research & Clinical Trials

At Nemours, we’re actively researching new approaches for childhood disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

KidsHealth Library

Learn more about your child’s medical condition from the experts at Nemours’ KidsHealth.