Necrotizing enterocolitis involves inflammation in the intestines that can be dangerous if not promptly treated. The condition might only affect the lining of the intestine or throughout its entire thickness.
The impairment brought about by necrotizing enterocolitis to the tissues of the intestine can cause a perforation that enables bacteria normally present in the intestinal tract to leak into the abdomen and trigger an infection. Once this occurs, the infection can rapidly progress and considered as a medical emergency.
The condition is prevalent among premature infants. It is the most common digestive emergency in the neonatal intensive care unit and generally arises within 3-12 days after birth.
What are the causes?
The precise cause of necrotizing enterocolitis is still uncertain. It might be due to the reduced oxygen or blood flow that reaches the intestines which causes them to weaken.
In a deteriorated state, bacteria from food that enters the intestines can impair or cause tissue death and lead to a severe infection.
The indications of necrotizing enterocolitis generally manifest in the initial 2 weeks and might include:
- Swollen or bloated stomach
- Poor tolerance to feedings
- Apnea or pauses in the breathing pattern
- Frequent episodes of vomiting
- Reddened or abnormal color to the abdomen
- Blood-streaked stool
Management of necrotizing enterocolitis
The treatment for necrotizing enterocolitis is based on various factors including the age of the child and his/her overall health, tolerance for specific medications and the extent of the disease.
Some of the measures included in the management of the condition might include:
- Monitoring of the bowel movements
- Antibiotics to fight the infection
- Regular X-rays to monitor the progress of the condition
- Cessation of regular oral feedings and being fed via IV
- Placement of a tube in the stomach either via the nose or mouth which removes air and fluid from the stomach and intestine
- Breathing support in some cases
- Regular blood work to monitor for infection
In severe cases of necrotizing enterocolitis, surgical intervention might be required to get rid of the affected part of the intestine.