Small bowel transplant 


Organ donation: how it works

Jane Griffith from NHS Blood and Transplant explains what happens when you join the NHS organ donation register. It is a confidential database that holds information about a person’s wishes as an organ donor. She also explains what information maybe shared with family or how to withdraw your consent if you've changed your mind about being a donor. You can ring the organ donor line on 0300 123 2323 or visit for more information.

Media last reviewed: 16/05/2013

Next review due: 16/05/2015

How common is it?

In the UK, small bowel transplants were first performed in adults at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge in 1987 and in children at the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham in 1993.

As of September 2009, a total of 91 bowel transplants had been performed:

  • 67 in Birmingham Children’s Hospital
  • 16 at Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge
  • 5 at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford
  • 3 at King's College Hospital in London

The bowel

The bowel (intestine) is a long muscular tube in your abdomen (tummy). It moves partly digested food from the stomach to the anus and absorbs nutrients into your bloodstream.

When the intestine is not functioning as it should, you can become dehydrated and malnourished.

A small bowel (intestinal) transplant is an operation to replace a diseased or shortened small bowel with a healthy bowel from a donor.

Why a small bowel transplant is needed

A small bowel transplant is an option for children and adults whose bowel has stopped working properly and who are being fed by total parenteral nutrition (TNP). Parenteral nutrition is where liquid nutrition is given through a drip.

A small bowel transplant may be considered when the person has developed complications from TPN or is unable to tolerate this form of feeding.

Read more about when a small bowel transplant is needed.

Getting ready

Before having a small bowel transplant, you will need a transplant assessment. This involves tests and conversations with a transplant team to find if you are suitable for the procedure.

If you are suitable, you will be placed on an active waiting list and may be contacted at any time by the transplant team.

How long you have to wait will depend on your blood group, the availability of donors and how many urgent cases are on the list.

Read more about preparing for a small bowel transplant.

The operation

A small bowel transplant is a complicated and difficult surgery that takes on average around 8-10 hours.

During the procedure the surgeon will remove the bowel and connect the transplanted bowel to your blood vessels and digestive tract. They will also create an opening so the small bowel can be passed through the abdominal wall (ileostomy) to allow waste to pass out of your body into a pouch. 

After the transplant operation, patients can be moved from total parenteral nutrition (TNP) to a normal diet fed through the mouth.

Read more about how a small bowel transplant is performed.

Getting back to normal

You will have to take medicine to weaken your immune system, known as immunosuppressants, for the rest of your life to prevent your body rejecting the new organ.

You will need to have regular blood tests and will be routinely seen at the transplant centre for the rest of your life.

Read more about recovering from a small bowel transplant and risks of a small bowel transplant.

Page last reviewed: 19/06/2012

Next review due: 19/06/2014


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 4 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


'My day as a transplant co-ordinator'

Transplant co-ordinator Jen Lumsdaine describes her typical day, and how organ donors are matched with a recipient

Blood and organ donation

Have you considered donating your organs or giving blood? Find out how you could help others and how to register