DefinitionNecrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a serious condition of the intestine. The intestine digests food as it propels it through the digestive tract. NEC involves intestinal inflammation and tissue death. This condition often occurs soon after your baby starts feeding.NEC can be a serious condition and requires immediate care. It often occurs in the first 2 weeks of life, but can occur as late as 3 months of age. The baby is often still in the hospital when NEC starts.
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CausesThe exact cause of NEC is not known. Below is a possible series of events that can lead to NEC:
- Premature babies do not have fully developed intestines. This may make it difficult for the intestines to handle the stress of moving food.
- The stress may cause a decrease in oxygen or blood flow to the intestines. The loss of oxygen and blood flow can cause damage to the intestine.
- Bacteria can enter the intestine through the damaged area. The bacteria can lead to an infection and swelling. This will weaken the wall of the intestine even further.
- If the process continues it can perforate the intestine.
Risk FactorsNEC is mostly found in premature and very low birthweight babies, but it can occur in full-term infants. Factors that may increase your baby's chance of NEC include:
- A difficult delivery or low oxygen levels during labor
- Gastrointestinal infection
- Indomethacin or early dexamethasone treatment
- Being considered as high risk and has started taking milk by mouth or feeding tube
SymptomsNEC may cause:
- Difficulty feeding
- Feedings stay in your baby’s stomach longer than expected
- A sudden increase in bowel movements, or lack of bowel movements
- Bloody bowel movements
- Baby doesn’t pass a lot of gas
- Bloated abdomen that may be tender to the touch or red
- Vomiting, which may be greenish in color
- Stopping breathing or difficulty breathing
- Low heart rate
- Temperature instability
- Cool, clammy skin
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