Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) is a gastrointestinal disease that can affect premature babies in the days or weeks after birth. While less common, Necrotizing Enterocolitis can also occur in full term infants. Specifically, NEC is the infection and inflammation of the tissue in the small and large intestine. The exact causes of NEC are the subject of much medical speculation and research, but many theories suggest that lesser developed bowels and fragile intestinal tissues, common in premature infants, are at greater risk of incurring infection.
Signs and Symptoms of NEC
- Abdominal distention (swollen stomach)
- Feeding intolerance
- Decreased bowel sounds
- Bloody stools
- Greenish vomit (bile)
- Apnea (pauses in breathing)
- Change in bowel movements
- Fluctuations in body temperature
Generally, Necrotizing Enterocolitis occurs during the two weeks after birth. NEC develops in about 10% of babies born with a birth weight of less than 3.5 pounds. Some cases seem to indicate that NEC may occur more frequently in formula fed infants. Other findings suggest that a difficult labor or birth, which deprives the baby of oxygen, can increase the likelihood of NEC. There have also been cases where multiple cases of NEC arise in a hospital nursery, leading to the supposition that NEC could be contagious.
When a baby is exhibiting signs of Necrotizing Enterocolitis, immediate medical attention is critical. An X-ray and lab tests can confirm the existence of NEC.
Once confirmed, treatment includes:
- Stopping formula or breast milk feedings
- Insertion of nasogastric tube to the stomach
- Intravenous catheter for fluids and nutrition
- Antibiotics for infection
- Oxygen or ventilator support if baby has breathing problems
- Monitoring of stools
- Continued blood work and X-rays
NEC will sometimes require surgery if the bowel is severely impaired or damaged or if stool leaks into the abdomen. In the majority of cases, NEC can be treated and resolved. In cases requiring surgery, the child may continue to have some gastro intestinal problems. However, there are some heart-breaking cases where medical complications, a failure to diagnose the condition or misdiagnosis can result in the death of the infant.
When a newborn baby, especially a premature baby, is exhibiting gastrointestinal abnormalities, it is imperative that a doctor and the hospital medical team address these issues immediately. Necrotizing Enterocolitis is most often treated with a positive outcome; however, if symptoms are overlooked or dismissed, NEC can destroy the fragile gastric system of a newborn. If you or a family member believe that a hospital or doctor has failed to correctly treat a case of Necrotizing Enterocolitis, you can speak to a Kentucky Necrotizing Enterocolitis attorney to understand your legal rights.
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