What Parents Need to Know About Necrotizing Enterocolitis


Necrotizing Enterocolitis (also known as NEC) is a serious intestinal disease that is unfortunately common in premature and medically fragile infants. NEC happens when the tissue in the small or large intestine is injured or becomes inflamed. This inflammation can damage the tissue in the intestine and can even cause perforation of the intestinal wall.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the NEC Society, NEC is one of the leading causes of overall infant mortality in the United States. While any newborn could get NEC, it is rarely found in full-term babies, but it affects nearly 10 percent of those born prematurely.

What Causes Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Doctors still do not know the exact cause of NEC, but there are many theories as to why it primarily affects premature babies. NEC may be caused by too little oxygen or blood flow to the intestines, which usually happens if a baby’s immature lungs cannot adequately oxygenate the blood.

This leads to weakened intestinal tissues that be further damaged or destroyed. Damage caused by NEC can cause a perforation (or hole) in the intestines. In these severe cases, bacteria that is usually only present in the intestinal tract could leak out into the abdomen and cause a severe and possibly life-threatening infection.

What are the Symptoms of NEC?

Parents should be aware of the symptoms of NEC and should visit a doctor right away if their child displays any of them. Symptoms usually appear within three to twelve days after birth and can vary from child to child. They often include:

  • Swelling or bloated belly (abdominal distention)
  • Redness or abnormal color of the stomach
  • Bloody bowel movements
  • Frequent vomiting and bile (greenish-colored fluid) in the stomach
  • Fevers
  • Lethargy
  • Pauses in breathing (known as apnea)

How Is NEC Diagnosed?

To diagnose NEC, a physician will perform a physical examination and run various tests. They will usually begin by checking the baby’s stomach for pain, tenderness, and swelling. An abdominal X-ray could also provide detailed images showing signs of inflammation or damage to the intestine. A stool sample could also indicate the presence of blood, so your child’s doctor may test that as well.

An abnormally high white blood cell count could also be a sign, so the doctor may also order a blood test. Some doctors will also check for fluid in the intestine by inserting a needle into the infant’s abdominal cavity.

If your doctor catches NEC early enough, it could be treated without the need for surgery. Some treatment options include:

  • Discontinuing feedings
  • Use of intravenous fluids and antibiotics
  • Removal of air and fluid from the intestines and stomach through a nasogastric tube (NT)
  • Monitoring the healing of the intestinal tissue through frequent X-rays

For severe cases, the child may need surgery to remove the damaged intestine or bowel. A surgeon may also decide to drain the peritoneal cavity or perform a procedure to connect part of the intestine to an opening on the abdomen.

What if a Doctor Fails To Diagnose NEC?

If your child’s physician or another healthcare professional fails to diagnose or treat NEC, the consequences can be devastating. If you notice the symptoms of this condition and your doctor does not perform a thorough examination or run the correct tests, complications like the following could occur:

  • A hole or perforation in the intestine
  • Intestinal scarring or strictures
  • Difficulty absorbing food and nutrients, especially if parts of your child’s intestine has to be removed
  • Sepsis, or severe infections affecting the entire body

Time is of the essence when it comes to diagnosing and treating NEC. A speedy diagnosis will usually lead to a full recovery, while a misdiagnosis could lead to permanent injury or death.

Contact an Experienced Necrotizing Enterocolitis Attorney in New York Today

If a medical professional failed to diagnose or treat NEC, you have the right to hold them accountable. The complications that arise from NEC can have a lasting impact on your child’s health and wellbeing, and you have every right to demand answers and justice.

An experienced medical malpractice attorney will help you understand your rights and legal options. You could be eligible to seek compensation through a medical malpractice action against the doctor and/or the facility, so be sure to discuss the right course of action with an attorney who has handled these cases successfully.

The trial attorneys at Finz & Finz, P.C., have specific experience handling NEC cases, including securing a $9.75 million-dollar settlement in Pennsylvania for a young child who suffered a severe intestinal tract injury due to a delay in diagnosis and treatment by the doctor and the hospital. Contact us at 1-855-TOP-FIRM, chat with us live, or fill out a contact form to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our necrotizing enterocolitis lawyers today.

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