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A to Z: Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Necrotizing enterocolitis (nek-roh-TIE-zing en-ter-oh-coh-LIE-tis) is a serious intestinal problem that happens to some newborns. Tissue in the colon (part of the bowel) dies off, causing pain, swelling, or even a hole. Bacteria then get into the blood or belly and make babies very sick. 

More to Know

Doctors don't know exactly why some babies get necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC for short). It is more common in premature infants because their intestines and immune system are not fully developed. Experts believe that injury to the intestinal lining, too much bacteria, and formula feeding may also contribute to NEC. NEC usually happens in the first 2 to 4 weeks of life. 

Babies with NEC need medical care right away. Treatment includes stopping feedings and giving intravenous fluids and nutrition. Doctors give babies with NEC antibiotics and watch them very closely. Some babies need surgery if the colon is badly damaged. 

Keep in Mind

After getting medical care, most babies recover fully. Some need more treatment or surgery to fix problems like scarring in the intestine. Sometimes a baby's body can have trouble getting enough nutrients, especially if part of the intestine has been removed. 

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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