Blind loop syndrome
Blind loop syndrome occurs when digested food slows or stops moving through part of the intestines. This causes an overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines. It also leads to problems absorbing nutrients.
Stasis syndrome; Stagnant loop syndrome; Small bowel bacterial overgrowth
The name of this condition refers to the "blind loop" formed by part of the intestine that is bypassed. This blockage does not allow digested food to flow normally through the intestinal tract.
The substances needed to digest fats (called bile salts) do not work as they should when a section of the intestine is affected by blind loop syndrome. This prevents fat and fat-soluble vitamins from being absorbed into the body. It also leads to fatty stools. Vitamin B12 deficiency may occur because the extra bacteria that form in the blind loop use up this vitamin.
Blind loop syndrome is a complication that occurs:
- After many operations, including subtotal gastrectomy (surgical removal of part of the stomach) and operations for extreme obesity
- As a complication of inflammatory bowel disease
Exams and Tests
During a physical exam, the health care provider may notice a mass in, or swelling of the abdomen. Possible tests include:
- Abdominal CT scan
- Abdominal x-ray
- Blood tests to check nutritional status
- Upper GI series with small bowel follow through contrast x-ray
Treatment most often starts with antibiotics for the excess bacteria growth, along with vitamin B12 supplements. If antibiotics are not effective, surgery may be needed to help food flow through the intestines.
Many people get better with antibiotics. If surgical repair is needed, the outcome is often very good.
Complications may include:
- Complete intestinal obstruction
- Death of intestine (intestinal infarction)
- Hole (perforation) in intestine
- Malabsorption and malnutrition
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you have symptoms of blind loop syndrome.
Harris JW, Evers BM. Small intestine. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery: The Biological Basis of Modern Surgical Practice. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 49.
Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 140.
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.