Small bowel

The small bowel is also called the small intestine. It is a soft, coiled elastic tube between the stomach and the large bowel or colon. It is also part of your digestive system. The small intestine is composed of a:

Common reasons for transplant

If your small intestine fails, you would need to get nutrition. We usually give this through a drip into your veins.

When this is not possible, you may need a small bowel transplant. You will also need long term immunosuppression after a small bowel transplant.

The common causes of small bowel failure include:

Types of transplants

  • Small bowel transplants - for people with bowel failure who do not have liver disease
    Combined liver and small bowel transplant - for people with bowel failure who also have end-stage liver disease
  • Multivisceral (multiple organs) transplant – not commonly used but recommended for people with multiple organ failure.


  • absorbs minerals and nutrients from your food
  • receives partly digested food from your stomach
  • passes food to the lower bowel or large intestine

Small bowel transplant facts

  • adult's small bowel is about six or seven metres long - longer than the large intestine
  • about 90% of our food enters the blood through the small bowel
  • our digestive system works to break-down food into small particles to be absorbed
  • small bowel transplants are not common
  • a small bowel transplant is complicated and takes around 8 to 10 hours

History of small bowel transplants

  • The first human intestinal transplant was in 1967
  • In 1988, German surgeons performed the first successful intestinal transplant
  • More than 85% of people can survive for at least a year
  • Eighty percent of people are able to switch from being drip-fed to an oral diet and resume normal activities

Further information