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Necrotising Enterocolitis

20 April, 2016


As the organs of premature babies are not fully developed, their risk of becoming ill with a number of diseases when they are born increases. One of the most common and serious of these diseases is Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC), an intestinal disease.

What is it?

This serious illness is when the intestine becomes swollen and starts to die, leading to a possible perforation developing, and as a result waste cannot remain in the intestine. This leads to bacteria and other waste passing through and can cause dangerous infections. In some cases it may be fatal. NEC is the most common cause of surgical emergencies in newborn babies, although mainly affecting those born prematurely.

What causes NEC?

The exact reason that NEC develops is unknown, however causes may include:

  • An injured intestinal lining
  • An intestine that is not properly developed
  • Too little blood flow or oxygen to the intestine at birth (usually due to a difficult delivery)
  • Erosion of the intestinal wall due to a heavy growth of bacteria in the intestine
  • Formula feeding. A study by Neonatal Research found that in 6 out of the 10 cases they studied, the babies were fed less than 50% breast milk, suggesting a link between this and the development of NEC.

What are the symptoms?

NEC can be difficult to diagnose. Commonly, doctors must perform an X-ray or drain excess fluid from the abdomen with a needle in order to diagnose. However, some common symptoms include:

  • Low or unstable temperature
  • General signs of illness
  • Being less active
  • Problems feeding
  • Diarrhoea and/or dark or bloody stools
  • Vomiting (which in some cases may be green)
  • Constipation
  • Swollen, red and tender abdomen
  • Problems breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed heart rate

Info via KidsHealth

If your baby has these signs, and you feel that your doctor has not made a link to NEC, push your doctor to test for it, as the earlier your baby is diagnosed the better. If this is not done, and you feel that your child has been a victim of medical negligence, our specialist solicitors may be able to help.


How is it treated?

Treatment varies depending on how severe the NEC is. In many cases NEC can be treated without the need for surgery, and instead resting the bowel by using intravenous feeding and treating infections with antibiotics. This involves temporarily stopping feedings for one to two weeks and replacing them with intravenous (IV) fluids. During this period the child will have a nasogastric tube passed through their noise to drain off their stomach contents.

If there is no response to the treatment above or if they develop a perforation, the baby may need open surgery. The length of this operation will depend on the severity of the NEC. It will involve removing the infected parts of the bowel: exactly how much can vary, but the surgeons will save as much of the intestine as possible. If they have to remove a large part of the bowel then they may need to bring it to the surface so that the child can pass faeces. This is called a “stoma”.

Are there any risks?

Sometimes, when the baby is very ill, the operation may not be successful and it could be fatal. There is a possibility of bleeding both before and/or after the operation. There is also a risk of further bowel damage as a result of the operation, and the child may remain seriously ill due to this. In some cases, there may also be the need for additional operations. If you feel that this further damage is as a result of medical negligence, our lawyers may be able to help.

How do I make a claim?

If your child, or a relative, suffered a late diagnosis, or misdiagnosis, of NEC, our specialist lawyers can help. You may also have a claim if your baby was born prematurely as a result of medical negligence to you, leading to them developing NEC. Get in touch with our claims team today on the number at the top of your screen, or by filling in our claims form.