What is necrotizing enterocolitis in newborns?

Necrotizing Enterocolitis in Newborns

Necrotizing enterocolitis

Necrotizing enterocolitis is an infection and inflammation of a newborn's intestine. It can be mild or severe, leading to bowel obstruction and tissue death.

Symptoms in a newborn may include a swollen or tender belly, poor appetite or throwing up, constipation, and dark, black, or bloody stools. A newborn may also have a low or unstable body temperature and not be very active or energetic.

Necrotizing enterocolitis is believed to result from a combination of factors, including premature birth and immature immune and digestive systems.

This condition requires treatment in the hospital. The newborn is fed intravenously to allow time for the intestines to heal. And antibiotics are used to prevent or treat infection. Surgery is sometimes needed.

What can you expect if your newborn has necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)?

  • You may see tubes and wires attached to your baby. This can be scary to see. But these things help the doctor treat your baby. The tubes supply air, fluid, and medicines to your baby. The wires are attached to machines that help the doctor keep track of your baby's vital signs. These include temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pulse rate.
  • The hospital staff will give your baby the nutrition he or she needs. The doctor may feed your baby through an IV that goes into a blood vessel.
  • Your baby will be kept comfortable and warm.
  • It may seem that your baby is getting lots of tests. All of these tests help your doctor keep track of your baby's condition and give the best treatment possible.
  • It's hard to be apart from your baby, especially when you worry about his or her condition. Know that the hospital staff is well prepared to care for babies with this condition. They will do everything they can to help. If you need it, get support from friends and family. Ask the hospital staff about counseling and support.

What are the symptoms of necrotizing enterocolitis?

Symptoms depend on how severe the problem is. They may include:

  • A swollen, tender, red, or shiny belly.
  • Constipation.
  • Dark, black, or bloody stools.
  • Low or unstable body temperature.
  • Chills and fever.
  • Fast heartbeat and breathing.
  • Not wanting to eat.
  • Vomiting.
  • Being less active or having little energy.

How is necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in newborns treated?

  • The doctor will watch your baby closely. Your baby will get fluids, medicines (including antibiotics), and nutrition through a blood vessel. This helps your baby fight the infection and lets the tissue heal.
  • If the damage to the bowel is severe, your baby may need surgery. The doctor may remove the damaged part of the bowel. The bowel may then be repaired with surgery. Your baby may also need an ostomy. This makes the stool leave the body through an opening in the belly and collects it in a bag. Your baby will be asleep during surgery.

Can necrotizing enterocolitis be prevented?

Feeding the baby breast milk from the mother or a donor may help prevent necrotizing enterocolitis.

How is necrotizing enterocolitis diagnosed?

The doctor will examine your baby. The doctor may do tests, such as:

  • An X-ray of your newborn's belly.
  • A test to check for blood in your baby's stool (fecal occult blood test).
  • Tests to check for bacteria in the stool, blood, urine, or spinal fluid.

How can you care for your child who has necrotizing enterocolitis?

This condition is treated in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Your child's care team will work with you to help your baby. You can also ask the NICU staff about counseling and support.

What causes necrotizing enterocolitis?

Doctors aren't sure what causes this condition. It may occur when the immune and digestive systems do not develop in the right ways. This can happen when a baby is born early or when there are problems during pregnancy or delivery.

Necrotizing enterocolitis is less common in babies who are fed breast milk.

What is necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in newborns?

Necrotizing enterocolitis (say "NEK-ruh-ty-zing en-tuh-roh-kuh-LY-tus"), or NEC, is serious damage to tissue in the intestine (bowel). It is usually caused by a lack of blood flow to a part of the bowel. Bacteria can grow there and cause an infection. This may damage the bowel more. As NEC gets worse, the baby will not be able to feed.

NEC can happen in infants and babies. It happens more often in premature newborns.

If the damage is not severe and treatment works well, the baby may be able to feed within 3 to 10 days.

Your baby may need special care, such as being in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This may be scary for you. But the hospital staff understands this. They will explain what happens and will answer your questions.

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