Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is inflammation in the intestines that can lead parts of it to die. It often happens soon after a baby starts feeding. Treatment is needed right away.
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The exact cause is not known. It may happen when immature intestines do not get enough blood and oxygen. This can cause bacteria to enter the intestines and cause damage.
NEC is more common in premature infants and very low weight babies. It is also more common in males. Other things that may raise the risk are:
NEC may cause:
You will be asked about your baby’s symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
Your baby's blood, stool, and urine will be tested for signs of NEC.
Images may be taken of your baby's belly. This can be done with an abdominal x-ray.
Most babies fully recover when treated. Treatment includes:
Babies with severe NEC may need surgery to remove the damaged part of intestine. The healthy parts will be sewn back together. Babies with a lot of damage may need part of the intestine connected to an opening in the belly wall. The opening will allow waste products to pass to a bag outside the body.
The exact cause of NEC is not known. Some steps that may help prevent it are:
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Public Health Agency of Canada
Athalye-Jape G, More K, et al. Progress in the field of necrotising enterocolitis--year 2012. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2013 May;26(7):625-632.
Necrotizing enterocolitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/necrotizing-enterocolitis-19. Updated November 27, 2018. Accessed January 7, 2020.
Necrotizing enterocolitis. Merck Manual—Professional version website. Available at:https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/gastrointestinal-disorders-in-neonates-and-infants/necrotizing-enterocolitis. Updated October 2018. Accessed January 7, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD Last Updated: 7/24/2020