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The most common intestinal condition in newborns, necrotizing enterocolitis happens in about 1% to 5% of infants in the NICU and is more common in low birth weight and premature babies.
It's thought that a number of factors can contribute to the development of NEC, which is the necrosis, or death, of parts of the intestine.
Although a full-term infant can get the condition, the more premature a baby is, the greater the risk for NEC, perhaps because the intestines aren't developed enough to handle digestion. Introducing milk feeding, damage to the intestines from an infection, and poor blood flow also might play a role.
Babies with NEC may:
An X-ray of the abdomen confirms the diagnosis.
If there's no sign of a rupture in the intestines, doctors treat necrotizing enterocolitis by:
In the case of an intestinal rupture, a surgeon may remove the diseased section of the intestine or make an incision in the abdomen to allow the infected fluid to drain.
Recovering from NEC can take a long time. Babies may spend many weeks in the NICU readjusting to regular feeding.