Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Ages & Stages

What is Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)?

Click here to insert a picture from SharePoint. Click here to insert a picture from SharePoint.

​​Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a serious condition that affects the intestine of premature babies, although it may less commonly affect babies born full-term.

In babies with NEC, the intestines become damaged. In severe cases, the intestines can start to die and require surgery. In these cases, NEC can be fatal.

What causes NEC?

Doctors and researchers are not entirely sure what causes NEC. Our current understanding is that it is due to a combination of factors. These factors may include premature birth, the makeup of bacteria in the intestines, not enough blood flow or oxygen to the intestines, and an infant's diet.

What are the symptoms of NEC?

The symptoms of NEC can vary, but common ones include:

  • Feeding difficulties, including vomiting

  • Swollen belly or abdominal distension

  • Bloody stools

  • Decreased activity

How is NEC diagnosed?

NEC can be diagnosed using x-rays and sometimes an ultrasound of the belly. Doctors may also perform blood tests to check for signs of infection.

How is NEC treated?

Treatment for NEC may include stopping milk feedings to rest the intestine, providing nutrients through a vein (IV) and giving antibiotics. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged parts of the intestine.

How can NEC be prevented?

We do not know how to prevent all cases of NEC. There are some interventions that may help reduce the risk of NEC in preterm infants. These include using breast milk provided by the birth parent for feedings or pasteurized donor breast milk if needed. Other steps that may reduce risk include having a standardized feeding protocol in the hospital and giving the pregnant parent corticosteroid medicine before a preterm birth.

What is the long-term outlook for babies with NEC?

The long-term outlook for babies with NEC depends on the severity and whether surgery is needed. Some babies may recover fully with no long-term effects, while others may experience long-term complications such as short bowel syndrome or neurodevelopmental issues.

If your baby has been diagnosed with NEC, it is important to work closely with your doctor to discuss the treatment plan and monitor your baby's progress. With proper care, many babies with NEC are able to recover and go on to live healthy lives.

Because infants with NEC that need surgery can have long-term complications, they should be followed as they get older by pediatrics specialists. These can include surgeons, developmental specialists and gastroenterologists.

More information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine (Copyright © 2024)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
Follow Us