Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a serious illness in newborns. It happens when tissue in the large intestine (colon) gets inflamed. This inflammation damages and kills some tissue in your baby’s colon.
Any newborn can get NEC. But it’s most common in very sick or premature babies. This is especially true for babies who weigh less than 3 pounds, 4 ounces (1,500 grams). It is rare in older, larger babies. The smaller and earlier the baby, the higher the risk for NEC.
Doctors don't know what causes NEC. It may happen if not enough blood and oxygen reach your baby’s immature intestinal tissues. Bacteria from the environment can damage the tender tissues. This can harm the tissues and cause them to die. When this happens, a hole forms in the intestine. This can cause a severe infection in your baby’s belly (abdomen).
Several things may raise your baby’s risk for NEC.
Premature babies are less mature than full-term babies. This means they may have trouble with blood and oxygen circulation. Their body is not always ready for digestion and fighting infections. This increases their chance of having NEC.
Any premature baby is at risk for NEC, but babies who don't get human milk are more likely to get NEC. Human milk is easier to digest. It also contains substances that help fight infection and help intestinal cells mature.
Babies who had a difficult birth or low oxygen levels at birth are more likely to get NEC. When there is too little oxygen, the body sends blood and oxygen to the brain and heart first. This reduces the blood flow to the intestinal tract. This can cause less oxygen in blood to reach the colon.
Babies with infections in their intestines are more likely to get NEC.
Each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms usually show up in the first 2 weeks of life. They may include:
Signs of infection include:
The symptoms of NEC may be similar to symptoms of other conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your baby’s healthcare provider will check him or her for signs of NEC.
Your child may need an abdominal X-ray. An X-ray can show if your child’s intestine has a bubbly appearance. It can also show signs of air or gas in the large veins of your child’s liver. Air may also be on the outside of the intestines in your child’s belly (abdomen).
Your child’s healthcare provider may also put a needle into his or her abdominal cavity. This is to look for intestinal fluid in your child’s abdomen. This is a sign of a hole in the intestines.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:
If your baby has severe NEC, he or she may need:
NEC can cause a hole to form in your baby’s intestines. This makes bacteria inside the intestinal tract leak into your child’s intestinal wall and sometimes out into the abdominal cavity. This causes an infection. This can harm a small or large part of the intestine. It can happen quickly.
An infection in the intestines is hard for a baby to fight. Even with treatment, there may be serious problems. Some of these issues include:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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