Necrotizing enterocolitis is a serious condition for premature infants, and is too often fatal if not quickly diagnosed and treated.
The critical thing is for parents to quickly recognize the signs in order to seek treatment immediately. While full recovery is possibly with timely treatment, the condition can become fatal if not treated promptly and properly.
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the result of the tissue in the inner lining of the large intestine becoming damaged and starting to die. Necrotizing enterocolitis results in the intestinal wall becoming inflamed and infected, putting the baby's life in danger.
While necrotizing enterocolitis can develop as early as two weeks following the birth of any newborn, it appears most often in premature infants (60-80% of cases involve preemies).
Symptoms of necrotizing enterocolitis.
If your child is showing any signs or symptoms of NEC, you're advised to immediately speak with your neonatologist and seek medical care as quickly as possible. In general, the earlier treatment begins, the better the prognosis. Some of the more common symptoms of NEC are as follows:
- Abdominal swelling or bloating
- Abdominal discoloration
- Blood in the stools
- Poor feeding
Symptoms of infection may also be present, such as a disruption in breathing or apnea, an elevated body temperature, or lethargy.
What causes necrotizing enterocolitis?
While the exact cause of NEC remains unknown, some experts believe a contibuting factor may be oxygen deprivation during a difficult delivery. The lack of oxygen or blood flow to the intestine can cause it to weaken thus making it easier for bacteria that enters the intestine to damage the intestinal tissues.
Other risk factors for NEC include an excess of red blood cells, the existence of another gastrointestinal condition, and premature birth.
Making the diagnosis.
The diagnosis of NEC requires a full physical examination along with running a number of different tests. Some of the diagnostic procedures and tools the doctor may use to diagnose the condition include the following:
- While the doctor is examining the baby he will gently touch his or her tummy to check for any pain, tenderness, and swelling.
- Performance of an abdominal X-ray in order to see detailed images of the intestine. This allows the doctor to view any signs of inflammation and damage much easier.
- Testing of the stool for the presence of blood.
- Performance of other blood tests in order to measure platelet levels and white blood cell counts. Low platelet levels or a high number of white blood cells can be a sign of NEC.
- Insertion of a needle into the abdominal cavity to check for intestinal fluid. It presence usually indicates a hole in the intestine.
Treatment of NEC.
The treatment of necrotizing enterocolitis depends on several factors, including severity and the child's overall health. In the majority of cases, the doctor will advise the mother to discontinue breastfeeding, and the baby will receive all necessary fluids and nutrients through an IV. In all likelihood, the baby will also require antibiotics to help eliminate the infection.
For those who have breathing difficulties because of a swollen abdomen, medical professionals will provide extra oxygen or assistance with breathing. Severe cases may require surgery to remove the damaged areas of the intestines.
Complications and misdiagnosis.
While necrotizing enterocolitis can be life-threatening, the majority of babies completely recover after treatment. However, some families are not as fortunate. If your child has suffered permanent injuries or wrongful death because the doctor failed to diagnose NEC or provided treatment below the accepted standard of practice in the medical community, you likely have a valid medical malpractice claim.
If you have further questions please contact a Houston Medical Malpractice Lawyer at the McCarthy Law Group to discuss your matter.