/SiteAssets/Images/FMOLHSBlankBanner.png

Health Information

Necrotizing enterocolitis
Bookmarks

Necrotizing enterocolitis

Print-Friendly  

Necrotizing enterocolitis is the death of tissue in the intestine. It occurs most often in premature or sick babies.

Necrotizing enterocolitis occurs when the lining of the intestinal wall dies and the tissue falls off. The exact cause of this disorder is unknown. It is thought, however, that a drop in blood flow to the bowel keeps the bowel from producing mucus. The mucus protects the gastrointestinal tract. Bacteria in the intestine may also be a cause.

Most of the time, this problem develops in an infant that is ill or premature. It is likely to occur while the infant is still in the hospital.

Babies at higher risk of the condition include:

  • Premature infants
  • Infants who are fed concentrated formulas
  • Infants in a nursery where an outbreak has occurred
  • Infants who have received blood exchange transfusions

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • Causes

    Necrotizing enterocolitis occurs when the lining of the intestinal wall dies and the tissue falls off. The exact cause of this disorder is unknown. It is thought, however, that a drop in blood flow to the bowel keeps the bowel from producing mucus. The mucus protects the gastrointestinal tract. Bacteria in the intestine may also be a cause.

    Most of the time, this problem develops in an infant that is ill or premature. It is likely to occur while the infant is still in the hospital.

    Babies at higher risk of the condition include:

    • Premature infants
    • Infants who are fed concentrated formulas
    • Infants in a nursery where an outbreak has occurred
    • Infants who have received blood exchange transfusions
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may come on slowly or suddenly, and may include:

    • Abdominal bloating
    • Blood in the stool
    • Diarrhea
    • Feeding problems
    • Lack of energy
    • Unstable body temperature
    • Vomiting
  • Exams and Tests

    • Abdominal x-ray
    • Stool for occult blood test (guaiac)
    • Elevated white blood cell count in a CBC
    • Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
    • Lactic acidosis
  • Treatment

    Treatment for a baby that may have necrotizing entercolis include:

    • Halting regular feedings
    • Relieving gas in the bowel by inserting a tube in the stomach
    • Giving IV fluids and antibiotic medicines
    • Monitoring the condition with abdominal x-rays, blood tests, and measurement of blood gases

    The infant will need surgery if there is a hole in the intestines or inflammation of the abdominal wall (peritonitis).

    In this surgery, the doctor will:

    • Remove dead bowel tissue
    • Perform a colostomy or ileostomy

    The bowel is reconnected after several weeks or months when the infection has healed

  • Outlook (Prognosis)

    Necrotizing enterocolitis is a serious disease. About 1 in 4 infants die from it. Early, aggressive treatment helps improve the outcome.

  • Possible Complications

    • Intestinal perforation
    • Intestinal stricture
    • Peritonitis
    • Sepsis
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Get emergency medical care if any symptoms of necrotizing enterocolitis develop. Infants that have been hospitalized for illness or prematurity are at higher risk and should be watched for this problem.

Related Information

  SepsisIntestinal obstruc...    

References

Maheshwari A, Waldemar AC. Digestive system disorders. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 96.

BACK TO TOP 

Review Date: 5/21/2013  

Reviewed By: Todd Eisner, MD, Private practice specializing in Gastroenterology, Boca Raton, FL. Clinical Instructor, Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

adam.com

 
A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Fire Fox and Google Chrome browser.