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NEC is a serious intestinal disease affecting premature infants. It occurs when tissue in the small or large intestine is inflamed or injured. This condition can lead to death of the intestinal tissue, and in some cases, perforation of the intestinal wall. When the intestine can no longer hold waste, bacteria can pass into the bloodstream and cause a life-threatening infection. When this occurs, the intestine, or sections of it, may die and need to be removed. The death rate for infants with NEC is nearly 40 percent. Formula feeding increases an infant’s risk of contracting NEC.
An infant with NEC may exhibit these symptoms:
Symptoms of NEC can vary by infant and may be mistaken for other digestive issues.
A number of conditions may contribute to a baby developing NEC, including but not limited to:
Most babies that develop NEC are born before 37 weeks’ gestation. However, full-term babies who have health problems, such as a heart defect, can also develop NEC. Infants usually develop NEC within the first two to four weeks of life.
If your infant shows symptoms of NEC, there are two ways a doctor can diagnose it. An X-ray can detect an abnormal gas pattern in the intestine; or stomach fluid can be withdrawn with a needle and tested for evidence of a hole in the intestine.
After diagnosis, treatment begins immediately. It may include following:
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