Short bowel syndrome (SBS) happens when your small bowel (intestine) is not able to digest and absorb enough nutrients from foods and beverages to support your health. SBS can result from surgery that has removed any segment of the small bowel or can also result from poor function of the small bowel. Learn more about short bowel syndrome. 

What is oral rehydration?

SBS patients have a shorter length of functional bowel, which can cause fluids to pass through their intestines quickly resulting in diarrhea. To improve absorption, the type and amount of fluid is important. Ostomy output of more than 1500 mL (about 6 cups) of stool in a 24-hour period is considered high ostomy output. High ostomy output or chronic diarrhea can put you at risk for dehydration, electrolyte problems, poor nutrient absorption, and weight loss. 

An oral rehydration solution (ORS) is a special kind of drink made for when you have too much diarrhea and/or high ostomy output. Some patients with SBS may need to drink ORS to stay adequately hydrated and maintain the correct amount of fluid in their body.  

How does ORS work?

ORS is not a sports drink. It contains mostly water with a mix of salt and sugar balanced in the right amounts to help your body absorb sodium and fluid. To be effective the content should be at least 1100 mg of sodium (equal to 1/2 teaspoon of salt) per liter.  

There are three types of beverages: 

  • High concentration: Hyperosmolar (juices, regular soda, sweetened tea, lemonade, punch, sugary coffee drinks, milkshakes, smoothies, etc.).
  • Low concentration: Hypo-osmolar (water, sugar free drinks, diet soda, plain tea, plain coffee, coconut water).
  • Balanced concentration: Iso-osmolar (ORS).   

Each type has a different effect on the bowel. The iso-osmolar beverage contains sodium, potassium and glucose in the same concentration of the fluids surrounding the intestines, helping to increase absorption and reduce stool output.  

Getting started on an oral rehydration solution for short bowel syndrome

With the help of your dietitian and health care provider, choose an ORS that is most ideal for your bowel length and function. Drink this recommended solution in the prescribed amount, sipping throughout the day. 

Some of the preferred commercial ORS products on the market include: 

  • CeraLyte 70 or CeraLyte 90. 
  • Drip Drop. 
  • EquaLyte. 
  • Hydralyte Electrolyte Oral Solution. 
  • Liquid IV Hydration. 
  • Parent’s Choice Pediatric Electrolyte. 
  • Pedialyte. 
  • Rehydralyte. 
  • Trioral (Reduced Osmolarity ORS). 
  • WHO packets — Jianas Brother. 

Homemade oral rehydration solution recipes

Base beverage Recipe
  • 32 ounces (1 quart) water 
  • ½ teaspoon table salt 
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • Optional: Crystal Light® to taste (especially lemonade or orange-pineapple flavors) 

G2® Lower Sugar Gatorade  

  • Gatorade® G2 (32 oz. bottle) 
  • ½ teaspoon table salt 
Gatorade® Powder
  • 32 ounces water 
  • 2 tablespoons Gatorade powder 
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • ¼ teaspoon Splenda or to taste
Chicken Broth
  • 32 ounces water 
  • 1 dry chicken broth cube 
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 16 ounces liquid broth (not low sodium) 
  • 16 ounces water 
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 

Resources about short bowel syndrome and oral rehydration solution

Now it is time to meet with a GI-expert dietitian. To get more information about this topic, find a dietitian in your area using our Find a Health Care Provider tool.

Written by

Carol Rees Parrish, MS, RDN, and Viveca Ross, RD, CNSC
DIGID Short Bowel Syndrome Workgroup ©2022.