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Necrotizing Enterocolitis and Short Bowel Syndrome: What’s the Connection?

Author
Amanda Turner
April 11, 2022

It’s hard for parents when their babies are diagnosed with a health problem. Necrotizing enterocolitis—or NEC—can be especially scary, as the condition can cause a hole in the intestines that leads to serious bacterial infections. Some babies with NEC go on to develop short bowel syndrome (also known as short gut syndrome). 

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What Is Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Premature babies may develop a condition known as NEC, or necrotizing enterocolitis. NEC causes intestinal tissue to die, which can result in holes in the intenstines. This can cause bacteria meant to stay inside the intestines to leak into the bloodstream or into the abdomen. 

Typically, NEC appears when premature infants are between two and six weeks old. The condition can be mild or life-threatening. It’s important that babies with NEC are closely monitored and given appropriate treatment. Without treatment, NEC can lead to complications that require lifelong attention.

There are several factors that can increase the likelihood of necrotizing enterocolitis. 90% of the babies who develop the condition were born at the 37th week of pregnancy or earlier. A connection has also been shown between the consumption of certain baby formulas and the development of NEC. Other factors that make NEC more likely include a low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds at birth), and being fed via enteral nutrition (a feeding tube that goes directly into the stomach).

While doctors and researchers aren’t totally sure what causes necrotizing enterocolitis to develop, it’s possible that a premature baby’s naturally lower immune system struggles to fight off infections easily handled by a more mature immune system. Premature and especially small babies also have a weaker digestive system than larger babies, which means that their digestive systems may have a harder time dealing with intenstinal infections than a baby with a more well-developed gut.

What Is Short Bowel Syndrome?

Babies who experience necrotizing enterocolitis may develop short bowel syndrome, also known as short gut syndrome. This can make it hard for babies and children to get the nutrients that they need from food, which can result in growth problems. 

Babies who experience intestinal damage as a result of NEC may be more likely to develop short bowel sydrome than babies who experience a mild case of NEC. Some children are born with short bowel syndrome, regardless of whether they experience NEC. 

The small intestine in the digestive system has three parts: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. If parts of the jujunum or ileum are removed, it can be difficult to get the nutrients necessary for proper growth. 

While NEC is the most common cause of short bowel syndrome, other health issues can also cause the condition. Chron’s disease, intestinal trauma or injury, and intussuspection can all contribute to the development of short bowel syndrome. 

Short bowel syndrome can look different from person to person. Many children who develop short bowel syndrome experience symptoms including: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive gas
  • Dehydration
  • Severe diaper rash (as a result of diarrhea)
  • Malnutrition

Treating Short Bowel Syndrome

As a parent, it can be scary to hear that your child has short bowel syndrome. You may worry about whether they’ll be able to get the nutrients from food that allow them to grow normally. 

While life with short bowel syndrome requires careful attention and treatment, and your child will need lifelong care to ensure that they enjoy a high quality of life despite potential challenges in getting the nutrition that they need to thrive. 

Treatment options for children with short bowel syndrome include:

  • Dietary changes: Some children who have short bowel syndrome need special care to ensure that they receive the proper amount of electrolytes to help them stay hydrated and prevent malnutrition. 
  • TPN (total parenteral nutrition): This treatment option bypasses the digestive system. Children who receive TPN have a tube inserted into a large vein where they receive a mixture of nutrients and fluid. It can take a long time—up to 12 hours—for a TPN treatment. Babies usually go through TPN treatment while asleep. 
  • Enteral nutrition: Also known as g-tube feeding, enteral nutrition involves the delivery of nutrients through a gastric tube placed in the stomach. For some children, a nasogastric tube (a tube that goes through the mouth and into the stomach) may be used. For other children, a tube may be placed directly into the small intestine.
  • Medication: Anti-diarrheal drugs and drugs used to slow the speed with which food passes through the small intestine can help children with short bowel syndrome to absorb the nutrition they need to thrive. Children with short bowel syndrome may also need anti-ulcer medication to help them deal with the high amounts of stomach acid often associated with the condition.

Has Your Baby or Child Been Diagnosed With Necrotizing Enterocolitis or Short Bowel Syndrome? You’re Not Alone.

If your baby has been diagnosed with NEC, or has been diagnosed with short bowel syndrome as a result of NEC, it can be hard to figure out where to turn. Sadly, many babies who were fed using Enfamil and Similac infant formula develop NEC. If you fed your baby Enfamil or Similac and they developed NEC, it’s important that you don’t blame yourself. Instead, learn more about how you may be eligible for compensation for the pain, suffering, and medical bills your child and family have encountered as a result of an NEC diagnosis. 

Reach out to us today to learn more about how we can help you with a free case review. Your family has suffered enough—you deserve to know whether you’re eligible for compensation.

Free Case Evaluation

If your child was diagnosed with NEC, Select Justice can help you fight for your rights and compensation.

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