Necrotizing enterocolitis develops when the inner lining of the intestines get damaged and start to die. This inflames the intestine. In severe cases, the intestine may puncture. If this happens the bacteria that live in the intestine; can pour out into the abdomen and cause extensive infection. It could become a major medical emergency.
The condition is known to develop in newborns within 2 weeks after birth. It is fairly common in premature babies; those who weigh less than 3 pounds can develop necrotizing enterocolitis. It progress very rapidly and it is very important to start treatment immediately.
Causes Of Necrotizing Enterocolitis
The precise cause of the condition is not known. It has been postulated that reduced amounts of oxygen during a difficult delivery is responsible for the occurrence. In case of oxygen deficiency or a diminished flow of blood to the bowels, it becomes weak. Consequently, it is easier for bacteria from the food to enter the intestine and impair the intestinal tissues, causing inflammation, infection and necrosis.
Other risk factors are – an excessive number of RBCs and the presence of some other gastrointestinal disorder. Premature babies have under-developed body systems; correspondingly, they may have difficulty with fighting infection, digestion, and circulation of blood and oxygen.
Symptoms Of Necrotizing Enterocolitis
The symptoms of necrotizing enterocolitis include:
- Abdominal swelling
- Discoloration of the abdomen
- Bloody stool
- Reduced feeding
- Disrupted breathing
Diagnosis And Treatment Of Necrotizing Enterocolitis
The diagnosis of the condition is made through a physical exam and certain investigations and tests which your doctor will ask you to carry out. During the exam, your physician will assess for pain, swelling, and tenderness. An X ray will give a detailed image of the intestine. The child’s WBC count and platelet levels will be evaluated as well. A low platelet count and a high WBC count may be indicative of necrotizing enterocolitis.
The doctor may introduce a needle into the abdominal cavity to test out the presence of fluid in the intestine. Intestinal fluid confirms the presence of a hole in the intestine.
The treatment regimen depends upon:
- Intensity of the condition
- The child’s age
- The overall health
Your baby will be given IV fluids and nutrients. Antibiotics are needed to battle the infection. In case of breathing difficulties due to swelling in the abdomen, breathing assistance becomes necessary.
In severe cases, surgical intervention becomes vital; the procedure comprises of excision of the damaged portion of the bowel.
Throughout the treatment, the child is monitored very closely. X-rays and blood tests will be done regularly to ensure the disease doesn’t worsen.
Long Term Effects Of Necrotizing Enterocolitis
Necrotizing enterocolitis can be a life threatening condition; on the other hand, most babies recover once treatment is given. Rarely, the bowel could get completely damaged and narrowed, causing an intestinal blockage. Malabsorption may develop as well. As a result, the intestine cannot absorb the nutrients and there will be inadequate nourishment. It usually develops in babies who had a segment of the intestine excised.
The prognosis and outlook of a baby depends upon his general health and the intensity of the condition, amongst other factors. Confer with your health care provider / pediatrician for specific information with respect to your baby’s particular case.