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Necrotising enterocolitis (NEC)

What is it?
NEC is a serious illness where tissues in the intestine become inflamed and begin to die. This can cause a serious infection as a hole may develop, allowing the contents of the intestine to leak into the abdomen.

NEC can be difficult to diagnose but common symptoms include general signs of illness, problems feeding and a swollen or tender abdomen.

Most cases of NEC can be treated without surgery simply by resting the intestine and feeding the baby intravenously, together with medication for the infection. The baby is also given a nasogastric (NG) tube which is passed through his or her nose to drain off the contents of the stomach.

If the baby develops a perforation in the intestine or does not respond to treatment, surgery will be required. It will be carried out under a general anaesthetic and the surgeon will remove any parts of the intestine where the tissue has died. While your baby recovers from surgery, he or she will continue to be fed intravenously. This will gradually be replaced by breast or bottled milk given through the NG tube as your baby recovers.

For babies whose NEC is treated by resting the intestine, the outlook is promising. If your baby needs surgery, the outlook will depend on how much of the intestine needs to be removed and how prematurely your baby was born. If a large amount of intestine was removed, your baby may need to be fed intravenously for a longer period until the intestine can absorb enough nutrients for normal growth and development.


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