What is necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)?
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a life-threatening disease of newborn babies in which parts of the lining of their intestines becomes inflamed and dies.
Your baby may have a swollen belly, throw up, and have bloody stool (poop)
Doctors treat NEC by stopping feeding, using a suction tube in the stomach, and giving feedings and antibiotics by vein (IV)
NEC is life-threatening, but about 3 out of 4 babies survive
After having NEC, babies may have a narrowed intestine and need surgery
What causes NEC?
Doctors don't know exactly what causes NEC, but it probably involves:
Poor blood flow to the intestine
The poor blood flow can allow normal bacteria in the intestine to attack the lining of the intestine. The lining becomes inflamed and bleeds.
The biggest risk factor for NEC is:
Other things that increase the risk of NEC include:
Your water broke too soon (premature rupture of membranes Premature Rupture of the Membranes (PROM) When you're pregnant, your baby grows in amniotic fluid inside your uterus (womb). The fluid and the baby are inside a sac called the amniotic sac. The sac is made of a thin but strong membrane... read more ) and your baby got an infection
Poor blood flow or low oxygen levels in your baby before, during, or after birth (perinatal asphyxia Perinatal asphyxia Birth injury is damage that occurs as a result of physical pressure during the birthing process, usually during transit through the birth canal. Many newborns have minor injuries during birth... read more )
Birth defects of the heart
What are the symptoms of NEC?
Babies with NEC usually look very sick. They usually also have:
Swelling of the belly
Throwing up blood or green, yellow, or red-colored fluid
Blood in the stool
What are the complications of NEC?
NEC can progress to affect the whole wall of the intestine and cause a:
Fluid and bacteria leak out of the hole into your child's tummy and cause a serious infection called peritonitis.
After NEC heals, your child's intestine may be scarred in places. After a few months, the scarring can partly close off the intestine and make it hard for digested food to go through (intestinal obstruction).
How can doctors tell if my baby has NEC?
Doctors suspect NEC from your baby's symptoms. They can tell for sure by doing:
X-rays of your baby's belly
How do doctors treat NEC?
Doctors treat NEC by:
Stopping regular feeding to let the intestines rest and heal
Giving fluid and nutrition by vein
Putting a suction tube into your baby's stomach to suck out digestive juices and keep them out of the inflamed area
Giving antibiotics by vein
Surgery, if your baby develops a hole in the intestine
Later on, if your baby's intestine is narrow and has scars, doctors do surgery to remove the narrow section.
What can prevent my baby from getting NEC?
The following may help prevent NEC:
Feeding your premature baby breast milk instead of formula
Avoiding highly-concentrated formula
Avoiding low oxygen levels in your baby's blood (the hospital will monitor this)