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What Causes Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) in New Borns?

Necrotizing Enterocolitis is a very dangerous condition that endangers the lives of premature infants.

There has been a focus on this condition recently because the use of cow-milk based infant formulas has been shown to cause severe cases of necrotizing enterocolitis.

This is a serious disease that neonatal intensive care units will need to treat. The causes of necrotizing enterocolitis are similar to other major infections.

What Is Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Necrotizing enterocolitis is a condition that will impact a premature baby. Other full term babies could develop the condition, but it is rare. Essentially, it is an inflammation of intestinal tissue.

The inflammation will cut off oxygen circulation in the intestinal tissue, causing it to die.

This will result in permanent damage to the intestinal tract.

Necrotizing enterocolitis will affect about one in every ten premature infants.

Low birth weight or small size are the primary risk factors for the infection.

Babies could also be vulnerable to NEC if they are receiving ventilation assistance or were delivered by a cesarean section.

Infaction With necrotizing enterocolitis

Some infants have developed necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) after defective baby formula.

The Dangers of Necrotizing Enterocolitis

When intestinal tissue dies, it can cause a hole in the intestinal wall.

Bacteria can escape through the hole in the intestine and make its way into the abdominal cavity, causing an even more severe infection.

If the baby survives necrotizing enterocolitis, there may be severe damage to the infant’s digestive system.

Some babies can completely recover from necrotizing enterocolitis. In some bases, prompt medical treatment will ensure recovery.

In other cases, doctors will need to perform emergency surgery.

Why Do Premature Babies Develop Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

There is necrotizing enterocolitis risk for nearly all premature newborns, given the immaturity of their digestive system and their lack of ability to fight bacterial infections.

In addition, premature babies have immature lungs that cannot deliver the oxygen necessary to sustain the intestinal tract.

The baby does not have the oxygen necessary for the blood. As a result, the intestinal lining will weaken.

Healthy bacteria that lives inside of the intestine will invade the intestinal wall and cause an infection.

This could ultimately lead of the wall of the intestine, and bacteria will move through the abdominal wall and into the abdomen.

There are a number of risk factors for necrotizing enterocolitis. In some cases, toxins from the environment can

Babies Can Receive Too Little Oxygen During Delivery

Any baby, especially one born premature, has very tender and immature intestinal tissue.

These need an adequate amount of oxygen and blood.

If the baby has had a difficult delivery, these intestinal tissues may suffer from diminished blood flow and a reduced amount of oxygen.

The lack of blood and oxygen circulation can cause this tissue to die.

The Symptoms of Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Here are some common symptoms that babies who have NEC develop:

  • Abdominal distention (this is swelling in the child’s belly, or the baby’s belly could be bloated)
  • Bloody stools (alternatively, the baby’s poop could be abnormal colors)
  • Feeding intolerance
  • Bile-colored gastric drainage
  • Lethargy and other signs of infection

Given the fact that NEC is a dangerous infection, it is critical that a doctor diagnose this condition as soon as possible.

Otherwise, the baby’s health could be seriously endangered.

NEC Is a Medical Emergency

NEC is far more than just a minor problem. The infection has a high fatality rate, even when doctors treat it promptly.

The mortality rate for an NEC infection is between 10-50% in babies who weigh less than 1500 grams.

The chances of survival improve when the baby weighs more because they will be less affected by the inability to eat.

Not only is the intestine at risk, the baby may also not be able to absorb nutrients when they have this dangerous infection.

This could prevent the baby from growing and developing during a critical time.

Doctors Must Take Very Strict Precautions to Prevent Necrotizing Enterocolitis

When babies have gone through a preterm birth, they are in serious danger. Between the immaturity of their digestive system and other risk factors, they often lack the ability to fight infection.

Doctors try to carefully manage the baby’s feeding to guard against enterocolitis NEC.

First, it is vital to give the baby breast milk instead of cow formula, for reasons that you will see below.

Second, the doctor may administer probiotics to prevent infection.

Finally, the doctor will be as careful and conservative as possible with the baby’s feeding.

Formula Feeding and Necrotizing Enterocolitis

One of the major causes of necrotizing enterocolitis is the fact that premature infants are fed formula that is cow-milk based.

This has led to NEC lawsuits against the following major brands of infant formula:

  • Similac
  • Enfamil

There are a number of scientific theories as to why premature babies can develop NEC from being fed cow-milk based formulas.

One school of thought has to do with the content of the formulas themselves.

Other believe that NEC results from the immaturity of the mucous membranes in the intestines, and their inability to handle the formula.

Either way, it is far safer to feed premature babies breast milk.

If they are not strong enough to feed from the mother, they should be given human milk products and not those that are cow-based.

When babies are fed breast milk, it greatly reduces their chances of developing NEC.

Necrotizing Enterocolitis Diagnosed in Premature Infants Through Blood Tests

The child’s provider could use a number of methods to diagnose NEC. Since it is an active infection, the doctor could take a blood test to diagnose the condition.

In addition, since the doctor is looking for damage to the intestinal wall, they could take abdominal x rays to look for damage.

One thing that the x-ray will show is air bubbles in the intestinal wall that are signs of infection.

Other ways are testing the intestinal fluid for signs of harmful bacteria or analyzing the baby’s feces.

Fighting Infection in Premature Babies

Doctors need to treat necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) any way that they can because it is such a critical emergency.

First, they will need to discontinue feedings. They may insert a tube that goes from the mouth to the stomach to take air and fluid out of the stomach and abdominal cavity.

Since the baby has an infection and cannot eat, the doctor must administer antibiotics and feed the baby through an intravenous tube.

In the meantime, the doctor will need to continuously monitor the baby and perform abdominal x rays to assess the baby’s condition.

In addition, if the illness is impacting the baby’s oxygen intake, they will need to use a breathing machine for extra oxygen.

The Long-Term Damage to the Baby’s Intestines from NEC

Eventually, a pediatric surgeon may need to perform surgery to remove the damaged intestine.

Of course, the doctor will try to leave as much intestine as possible, so the baby can maintain as much normal function as they can.

However, when there is too much intestine removed, the baby may not be able to eat normally and have proper bowel movements. This may cause long-term damage that may prevent the baby from ever living a normal life.

A baby needs a certain amount of healthy intestine to function properly. Once babies lose part of their small or large intestine, it cannot be restored.

Another long-term side effect of NEC is an intestinal stricture. This is a narrowing of the intestine that will make it harder for the baby to eat as they grow older.

Liability for Necrotizing Enterocolitis

There are a number of people who can be held legally responsible for necrotizing enterocolitis.

The child’s doctor may face malpractice lawsuits if they made a mistake in the delivery process that caused a birth injury.

They may have delayed an abdominal x ray that could have found the infection in the baby’s abdomen.

Finally, many doctors have been found liable in malpractice lawsuits when they provide medical advice that recommends cow-milk based formula.

It is important that you find the exact cause of the injury and whether it resulted from unreasonable medical treatment.

Alternatively, some parents have been suing the makers of infant formula for injuries caused by their products.

There are currently a number of lawsuits filed by parents of seriously ill infants against the manufacturers of baby formula for product defects.

Helping Parents of Seriously Ill Infants

The attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers can help you take legal action for severe cases of necrotizing enterocolitis when someone else is to blame for your baby’s injury.

Just because your child has had a premature birth does not mean that they must suffer from this life-threatening illness.

In many cases, someone has done something wrong to cause this illness.

Call us today at (800) 424-5757 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.

We have helped parents of injured babies file lawsuits for medical malpractice and product liability cases.