Intestinal failure

Intestinal failure is when a large part of the intestine is missing or does not work properly. This means the gut does not digest and absorb food the way it should.

Conditions that can cause intestinal failure include:

  • when a large part of the intestine is surgically removed
  • diseases that affect how the intestine absorbs food
  • being born with an abnormal intestine.

Intestinal failure is treated by adjusting your diet based on the gut’s ability to absorb nutrients. You will usually need to be fed intravenously to get enough nutrients and fluids – this is called parenteral nutrition.

Intestinal failure may be temporary or permanent. There are three types of intestinal failure for adults.

  • Type 1: short-term intestinal failure
  • Type 2: prolonged intestinal failure – life-sustaining parenteral nutrition is needed for longer than 20 days
  • Type 3: long-term intestinal failure – usually stable people who are able to be managed at home with home-based parenteral nutrition

Children often may be born with or develop intestinal failure which may improve over time, or become a long-term or progressive condition.

The goal of treatment is to restore gut function and return to normal eating. Support from your friends, whānau, and health care providers can help.


Find out more from the Ministry

New Zealand has established a National Intestinal Failure Service, which is designed to improve outcomes for patients of all ages with intestinal failure. This service is based at Auckland District Health Board and works with clinicians in other DHBs to support them to care for people with intestinal failure.

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