How a small bowel transplant is performed 

There are different types of small bowel transplant operation that may be recommended, depending on your individual circumstances.

The main types of transplant procedure are:

  • small bowel transplant only  recommended for people with bowel failure who do not have liver disease
  • combined liver and small bowel transplant  recommended for people with bowel failure who also have advanced liver disease
  • multiple organ (multivisceral) transplant – although it's not often carried out, this can be recommended for people with multiple organ failure, and involves transplanting the stomach, pancreas, duodenum (the first section of small bowel), liver and small bowel

What happens during surgery

A small bowel transplant is a complicated and highly specialised operation. It is performed under general anaesthetic and takes around 8-10 hours to complete, although it can take longer.

After removing your diseased bowel, your blood vessels are connected to the blood vessels of the transplanted bowel. The transplanted bowel is then connected to your digestive tract, or to what is left of the bowel.

The surgeon will form an ileostomy (where part of the small bowel is diverted through an opening in the tummy, called a stoma). After the operation, the ileostomy allows digestive waste to pass out of your body into an external pouch, and lets the transplant team assess the health of your transplanted bowel.

Depending on your health and the operation's success, the ileostomy may be closed a few months after the operation and the bowel reconnected. However, this is not always possible.

Read about recovering from a small bowel transplant.

Donating a section of small bowel

It is sometimes possible to carry out a small bowel transplant using a section of bowel donated by a living family member.

In these cases, the donor will need to have an operation during which the donated part of bowel is removed and the remaining sections of bowel are connected together.

Page last reviewed: 23/06/2014

Next review due: 23/06/2016