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Necrotizing Enterocolitis - Topic Overview

What is necrotizing enterocolitis?

Necrotizing enterocolitis camera.gif is infection and inflammation of the intestine. It is most common in babies who are born early (premature). Many newborns who have it go on to live healthy lives. But if the infection becomes severe, it can cause severe damage to the intestine, which can be deadly. Some children may have ongoing problems with digestion, growth, or development.

This condition usually happens within the first 2 weeks after birth. But it may occur up to 3 months after birth.

What causes necrotizing enterocolitis, and can it be prevented?

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

Experts don't know if feeding formula to a newborn can lead to necrotizing enterocolitis. They do know that the disease is much less common in babies who are fed breast milk.

Some doctors recommend probiotics to help prevent necrotizing enterocolitis in some infants who are at risk for it. Probiotics are bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines.

What are the symptoms?

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 diagnosed?

The doctor will ask about your baby's symptoms and past health. 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 is it treated?

Your baby will be treated in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Treatment usually lasts 3 to 10 days. It may last longer if the condition is severe. Treatment includes intravenous (IV) feeding, antibiotics, and a tube that goes in the nose to the stomach to remove extra fluids and gas from the intestine.

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