Intestinal failure occurs when the intestines are no longer able to absorb nutrients or fluids. Intestines can lose the ability to absorb nutrients due to disease states like short bowel syndrome or a mobility/obstructive disease process.
Short bowel syndrome is when a portion of the small intestine is removed by surgery, malformed or missing at birth. The small intestine is where the digestion of food and the absorption of water occur. When the small intestine is missing, the body cannot absorb water, vitamins, and other nutrients from food to sustain life.
Motility disorder, such as gastroparesis, is a common cause of intestinal failure. Healthy intestines move in regular wave like contractions moving food along the intestinal tract. When the intestines do not move in the normal contractions, there is a delay in emptying the contents of the stomach into the small intestine. Diseases, such as diabetes, that have persistent high blood sugars can cause chemical changes in the nerves that stimulate the wave like contractions of the stomach and small intestine. The damage to the nerves causes the intestines to freeze or become paralyzed.
Obstructive disease processes, such as cancer, is another cause of intestinal failure. A cancerous tumor will block the movement of food and nutrients through the intestines.
Radiation therapy, a treatment for cancer, will damage the lining of the intestines and not allow fluids and nutrients to be absorbed.
These are the most common causes of intestinal failure.