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Intestinal Atresia

(Pyloric Atresia; Duodenal Atresia; Ilial Atresia; Jejunal Atresia; Colonic Atresia; Atresia, Intestinal)


Intestinal atresia (IA) is present at birth. It is an area of the intestine that has not formed the right way. In some, the intestine may be fully closed. Food or fluids can’t pass through.

IA can happen in the small or large intestines and may be named by where it is found:

  • Pyloric—just after the stomach
  • Duodenal—first part of the small intestine by the stomach
  • Jejunal—small intestine between the upper and lower parts
  • Ilial—happens in the last part of small intestine
  • Colonic—happens in the large colon

Normal Anatomy of the Intestines

nucleus fact sheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes    TOP

It is not clear what causes IA. Low blood flow to the intestines before birth may play a role.

Risk Factors    TOP

Some types of IA are due to genes. They tend to happen in people who are related.

If you are pregnant, you may raise your risk of having a child with IA if you:

  • Smoke
  • Use drugs
  • Take certain medicines

Symptoms    TOP

IA may cause extra fluid to surround the baby during pregnancy.

Your baby may have:

  • Vomiting
  • A sunken belly
  • A swollen belly
  • Lack of a first stool

Diagnosis    TOP

A prenatal ultrasound will be able to detect extra fluid around the baby. The doctor may suspect the extra fluid is due to IA. More tests will be planned after birth to confirm the diagnosis.

After birth, your child’s doctor will review your child’s symptoms.

Pictures may be taken. This can be done with anabdominal X-ray

Treatment    TOP

IA cannot be treated until after birth.

Surgery will be done to repair the intestine. Supportive care will be given.

Nutrition Support

Nutrition normally enters the body through the intestines. When the intestines are not working the right way, nutrition will be delivered into the blood stream. Your baby will have an IV or small belly button tube. Nutrition will be delivered through the tube before and after surgery.

After surgery, the intestines will need a few days or weeks to heal. Small amounts of breast milk or formula will be slowly introduced to your baby. IV nutrition will support your baby during this time. The IV will be removed when your baby can tolerate enough breast milk or formula.

Remove Gas and Fluids

Fluid and gas can build up in the intestine. They can cause swelling and vomiting. The fluid and gas can cause problems during surgery.

A tube will be passed through the nose and into the stomach. The tube will drain fluids and gas out of the stomach and intestines. This will ease some of the pressure in the abdomen.

Surgery    TOP

Surgery will be needed to remove the damaged part of the intestine. The healthy parts will be reconnected. More steps may depend on the amount of intestine that is damaged. A large area may need more than one surgery.

A feeding tube may be placed through the abdomen. This tube will help drain the stomach and provide food.

Surgery in the lower intestine may also need a colostomy. The upper part of the intestine that is left is attached to an opening in the abdominal wall. This will allow waste to pass out of the body and give the lower intestines time to heal.

Most babies do well after surgery. Follow-up care will make sure that the intestines are working the right way.

Prevention    TOP

IA can’t be prevented.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children


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Intestinal atresia and stenosis in children. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at:
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Accessed July 2, 2018.
Intestinal atresia or stenosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated July 28, 2015. Accessed July 2, 2018.
Last reviewed June 2018 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 7/2/2018

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