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Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Necrotizing enterocolitis is when there is infection and inflammation of the intestine, causing the lining of the intestinal wall to fall off, leading to death of the intestinal tissue. It is most common in babies who are born early or premature. Many newborns that have can 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 of the symptoms of NEC are bloating, abdominal distention, or a belly that is larger and harder than normal, feeding difficulties, feeding intolerance, vomiting, blood in the stool or bowel movements, black stools, diarrhea, constipation, lethargy or tiredness, a fast heart rate, and trouble maintaining a normal body temperature. If NEC is not promptly diagnosed and treated, it can lead to an intestinal narrowing or a stricture of the intestine, intestinal perforation or a hole in the intestine, infection in the abdomen or peritonitis, overwhelming infection or sepsis, and even death.

The exact cause of NEC is unknown but it is thought that there is something that causes a decrease in the blood flow to the bowel or intestine that prevents the bowel from producing protective mucus.  Infants or newborns that are at high risk for developing NEC are usually premature, fed concentrated infant formula or received blood transfusions.

NEC can develop in the absence of any medical mistakes.  However, once it is suspected that a baby may be developing NEC, treatments must be started to minimize the amount of damage to the bowel or baby.  If it is suspected that an infant has NEC, the doctor will usually order an x-ray of the belly, test the bowel movement for blood, check the white blood cell count and look for an infection.

If NEC is diagnosed, all feedings are stopped and an intravenous (IV) line is started to give the baby fluids and vitamins.  A small orogastric (OG) or nasogastric (NG)  tube may be inserted to help remove food, air and gas from the stomach.  Antibiotics are usually started just in case there is an infection.  The baby’s belly and condition are then monitored with additional x-rays, blood tests and arterial blood gases.   If the baby does not respond to the non-surgical treatments, they may require surgery to prevent additional injury to the intestines.  Approximately 1 out of every 4 infants with NEC requires surgery.  The first surgery is done to remove the damaged part of the intestine and place a colostomy or iliostomy to give the belly a rest and allow it to heal.  When a baby has an ostomy, the stool exits the body thru it and is collected in a colostomy bag.  After the intestines have had a chance to heal and any infection is gone, the infant will undergo another surgery to reverse the colostomy or reconnect the bowel.

It is very normal to feel overwhelmed and scared when you baby is premature or has other health problems.  NEC can develop in your baby in the absence of medical malpractice but once it is discovered, it must be treated right away.  It is estimated that the death rate associated with necrotizing enterocolitis is approximately 25%.  Early and aggressive treatment is necessary in any baby that is showing signs of NEC to decrease the chance of further injury, damage or death.

Here at the Beasley Philadelphia birth injury law firm we have experienced legal and medical teams that consist of doctors and nurses who have worked in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) and newborn nurseries caring for premature infants and NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis). Our collective medical and legal knowledge assisted in obtaining two of the largest medical negligence verdicts in Pennsylvania history, $100 million and $55 million. If your baby developed NEC while in the hospital, please contact one of our experienced lawyers, doctors or nurses at 1.888.823.5291 for a strictly confidential and free consultation.