Small bowel

Your small bowel is part of your intestines. It is the coiled elastic tube that turns what you eat and drink into vital fuel for your body. It is not very small at all, it is about six metres long, and it is one of the organs that can be donated when you die.

Small bowel transplants are improving all the time. It is now possible to reduce an adult intestine so that it can be transplanted to a child. Your small bowel donation could transform the life of someone waiting on the organ transplant list.

Why not register as an organ donor today? The register is a permanent record of your wish to be a donor and can be updated at any time.

Can I be a small bowel donor? 

You can choose to become a small bowel donor when you join the Organ Donor Register. Donating your small bowel when you die could provide the much-needed intestinal transplant for someone living life on a drip.

Only a few hospitals in the UK currently offer this complicated and life-changing surgery. Success rates are generally good. More than 85% of people can survive for at least a year after surgery and 80% of people are able to switch from being drip-fed to an oral diet and resume normal activities.

It is now possible to take a small part of the bowel of a living donor and use it for a transplant. This kind of operation is extremely rare and not available on the NHS.

Regardless of your own health, we encourage everyone to be a small bowel donor for the following reasons:

Why do people need a small bowel donation?

Your bowels (or intestines) absorb nutrients from what you eat and drink. Usually, when this system is not working, people are given nutrition through a drip into their veins. Sometimes, when this is not possible or when complications develop, it may be necessary to have a small bowel transplant.

Complications that may lead to a small bowel transplant include:

  • short bowel syndrome (also known as short gut syndrome) – when part of the small bowel is missing, removed or damaged
  • extensive and unresponsive Crohns disease – causing inflammation of the lining of the digestive system
  • some digestive disorders.

How to become a small bowel donor

Tell your friends and family that you want to be a small bowel donor – it is very important that they understand and support your organ donation decision because your family’s support is needed for donation to go ahead. Dealing with the death of a loved one is a difficult time to make an important decision quickly.

Sign up to the Organ Donor Register online. The NHS Organ Donor Register is a secure database that records people’s decision around whether or not they want to be an organ and tissue donor when they die.

Call us on 0300 123 23 23.

Further information