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Medicine LibreTexts

22.10A: Anatomy of the Small Intestine

  • Page ID
    8056
  • The small intestine is the part of the gastrointestinal tract where much of the digestion and absorption of food takes place.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Diagram the anatomy of the small intestine

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • The small intestine is the part of the gastrointestinal tract that follows the stomach, which is in turn followed by the large intestine.
    • The average length of the small intestine in an adult human male is 6.9 m (22 feet, 6 inches), and in the adult female 7.1 m (23 feet, 4 inches).
    • The small intestine is divided into the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum.
    • Much of the small intestine is covered in projections called villi that increase the surface area of the tissue available to absorb nutrients from the gut contents.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • duodenum: The first part of the small intestine that starts at the lower end of the stomach and extending to the jejunum.
    • ileum: The last, and usually the longest, division of the small intestine; the part between the jejunum and large intestine.
    • small intestine: The upper part of the intestine, between the stomach and the large intestine, that is divided into the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum.
    • jejunum: The central of the three divisions of the small intestine that lies between the duodenum and the ileum.

     

    The Small Intestine

     

    The small intestine is the part of the gastrointestinal tract that follows the stomach, which is in turn followed by the large intestine. The small intestine is the site where almost all of the digestion and absorption of nutrients and minerals from food takes place.

    This is an illustration of the small intestine with the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum labeled.

    Small intestine: An illustration of the small intestine with the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum labeled.

    The average length of the small intestine in an adult human male is 6.9 m (22 feet, 6 inches), and in the adult female 7.1 m (23 feet, 4 inches). It can vary greatly, from as short as 4.6 m (15 feet) to as long as 9.8 m (32 feet). The small intestine is approximately 2.5–3 cm in diameter, and is divided into three sections:

    1. The duodenum is the first section of the small intestine and is the shortest part of the small intestine. It is where most chemical digestion using enzymes takes place.
    2. The jejunum is the middle section of the small intestine. It has a lining which is designed to absorb carbohydrates and proteins. The inner surface of the jejunum, its mucous membrane, is covered in projections called villi, which increase the surface area of tissue available to absorb nutrients from the gut contents. The epithelial cells which line these villi possess even larger numbers of microvilli. The transport of nutrients across epithelial cells through the jejunum includes the passive transport of some carbohydrates and the active transport of amino acids, small peptides, vitamins, and most glucose. The villi in the jejunum are much longer than in the duodenum or ileum.
    3. The ileum is the final section of the small intestine. The function of the ileum is mainly to absorb vitamin B12, bile salts, and any products of digestion that were not absorbed by the jejunum. The wall itself is made up of folds, each of which has many tiny finger-like projections known as villi on its surface. The ileum has an extremely large surface area both for the adsorption of enzyme molecules and for the absorption of products of digestion.

     

    The Villi

     

    The villi contain large numbers of capillaries that take the amino acids and glucose produced by digestion to the hepatic portal vein and the liver. Lacteals are the small lymph vessels that are present in villi. They absorb fatty acids and glycerol, the products of fat digestion, into direct circulation.

    Layers of circular and longitudinal smooth muscle enable the digested food to be pushed along the ileum by waves of muscle contractions called peristalsis. The undigested food (waste and water) are sent to the colon.