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Small intestinal disorders refer to a group of medical conditions that affect the small intestine, a part of the digestive system responsible for absorbing nutrients and passing them to the rest of the body.

These conditions can be caused by a variety of factors, including infections, inflammation, genetic disorders, and certain medications.

In this blog, we will discuss some common small intestinal disorders, their causes, symptoms, and available treatments.

We will also explore the importance of early diagnosis and treatment to prevent complications and improve the quality of life for people living with these conditions.



Explanation of Small Intestine

The small intestine is a crucial part of the digestive system, responsible for the majority of nutrient absorption in the body.

It is a long, narrow tube that stretches from the stomach to the large intestine, and is divided into three parts: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum.

The walls of the small intestine are lined with tiny finger-like projections called villi, which greatly increase its surface area for absorption.

When the small intestine is not functioning properly, it can lead to a variety of disorders and health problems.

small intestine treatment - Small Intestinal Disorders: Causes and Treatment



Types of Small Intestinal Disorders


There are various types of small intestinal disorders that can affect the small intestine. Some of the most common types include:

Celiac Disease: It is a condition in which the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This reaction can damage the lining of the small intestine and cause symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain.


Crohn’s Disease: It is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the digestive tract, including the small intestine. The inflammation can cause various symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and weight loss.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome: It is a common condition that affects the functioning of the small intestine. It can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel movements.


Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth: It occurs when there is an excessive amount of bacteria in the small intestine, which can cause various symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.


Lactose intolerance: This condition occurs when the enzyme lactase is deficient, resulting in the inability to absorb lactose or milk sugar. The symptoms occur following lactose ingestion. Symptoms include bloating, crampy abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

Small bowel vascular abnormalities. The small intestine may be the source of intestinal blood loss in patients with abnormal blood vessels. This condition is diagnosed with small bowel video capsule endoscopy. 

Small bowel polyps and cancer. These abnormalities are much less frequent than polyps and cancer in the colon. Small bowel video capsule endoscopy is the investigation of choice.


Intestinal Obstruction: It occurs when there is a blockage in the small intestine, which can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, and constipation.

Malabsorption Disorders: These are a group of disorders that affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Disorders such as lactose intolerance and pancreatic insufficiency can impact the small intestine and cause digestive issues.

Treatment for small intestinal disorders varies depending on the specific condition and severity of symptoms.


Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, commonly known as SIBO, is a disorder that occurs when there is an excessive growth of bacteria in the small intestine. The small intestine is not meant to have a large amount of bacteria in it, so when there is an overgrowth, it can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms.

Symptoms of SIBO

Some of the most common symptoms of SIBO include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.


Causes of SIBO

SIBO can be caused by a number of factors, including a weakened immune system, an obstruction in the small intestine, and certain medications like antibiotics or proton pump inhibitors.

SIBO can also be associated with other gastrointestinal disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).


Diagnosis of SIBO

The diagnosis of SIBO usually involves a breath test that measures the levels of hydrogen and methane in the breath.

The patient drinks a sugar solution, and then breath samples are taken over a period of time to determine the levels of hydrogen and methane gas produced by the bacteria in the small intestine.

High levels of either gas can indicate the presence of SIBO.

Other tests that may be used to diagnose SIBO include stool tests, blood tests, and imaging studies such as X-rays or ultrasound.

A gastroenterologist can determine which tests are most appropriate based on the individual’s symptoms and medical history.sibo diagnosis - Small Intestinal Disorders: Causes and Treatment

Treatment for SIBO

Treatment for SIBO typically involves a combination of antibiotics and dietary changes.

Antibiotics are used to reduce the overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, while dietary changes are aimed at reducing the amount of fermentable carbohydrates in the diet.

These carbohydrates can contribute to the growth of bacteria in the small intestine.
In some cases, probiotics may also be recommended to help restore a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.


Intestinal Obstruction


Small intestinal obstruction is a blockage that occurs in the small intestine, preventing the normal flow of fluids and food.

The blockage can be caused by a variety of factors, including adhesions, hernias, tumors, inflammation, and impacted feces.

Common symptoms of small intestinal obstruction include abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea.

If left untreated, small intestinal obstruction can lead to severe complications, such as intestinal perforation, sepsis, and death. Immediate medical attention is necessary for anyone experiencing symptoms of small intestinal obstruction.

Treatment options include surgery to remove the blockage, medications to reduce inflammation, and bowel rest to allow the intestine to heal


Importance of Early Detection and Treatment

Early detection of small intestinal disorders is important because it allows for timely treatment and management of symptoms, which can help prevent long-term complications.

Without proper diagnosis and treatment, small intestinal disorders can lead to:


  • Malnutrition
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Other health problems

Additionally, some small intestinal disorders may increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer if left untreated for a prolonged period of time.

Therefore, it is crucial to seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of a small intestinal disorder to receive appropriate treatment and prevent potential complications.


Small intestinal disorders can have a significant impact on an individual’s overall health and well-being.

If you think you might have a small intestinal disorder, talk to your doctor about how to get a diagnosis.

It is important to recognize the symptoms of small intestinal disorders and seek medical attention early for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnostic tools such as blood tests, imaging, and endoscopy can help identify the underlying cause of the disorder, allowing for targeted treatment and management.

While treatment options may vary depending on the specific disorder and individual, some strategies for managing small intestinal disorders include dietary modifications, medication, and lifestyle changes.

By working with a healthcare professional and implementing appropriate management strategies, individuals with small intestinal disorders can improve their symptoms and overall quality of life.

Dr. Schneider is located at the Millpark Hospital, Parktown, Johannesburg.

Services offered include consultation, and endoscopy procedures, including gastroscopy, colonoscopy and video capsule endoscopy.

For more information on the diagnosis and treatment of abdominal pain in Johannesburg, contact Dr. Schneider or book your consultation today.


The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.