What is Necrotic Bowel Syndrome?

Necrotic bowel syndrome, known medically as necrotizing enterocolitis, is a serious condition characterized by the death of gastrointestinal tissue 2. It is found mainly in sick infants or babies born prematurely. It is incredibly serious and life-threatening, and according to Medline Plus, the mortality of those with the condition is near 25%.Thankfully, it is a treatable condition.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


The exact cause of tissue death is unknown, though there are theories. At times the bowel may not receive enough blood, which in turn leads to a decrease in the production of mucus that serves as a protective layer for the gastrointestinal tract. Another theory suggests that there may be an excess of harmful bacteria in the intestines, which is able to enter the intestines once it has been worn down. The risk of developing this condition is much greater if the baby is: 1) born prematurely; 2) given a formula that is concentrated; and 3) been given a blood transfusion at some point.


According to KidsHealth.org, the symptoms of necrotizing enterocolitis mimic those of other gastrointestinal disorders, and may be different for every infant 2. The most commons signs and symptoms include: the inability to keep food down; food remaining in the stomach longer than normal; a bloated, red abdomen that is tender to the touch; vomit with a green tint and blood in the stools; and excessive or infrequent bowel movements accompanied by an increase in or lack of fecal production. Less common symptoms that may be harder to detect include sleep apnea, lethargy, a slowed heart rate and a change in body temperature.


The first step in treatment is to discontinue all feedings, followed by the insertion of a tube through the nose to the stomach (nasogastric) to drain any accumulation of fluid or air found in the intestines and stomach. If there is a significant loss of fluids, the infant may receive intravenous fluids to replace them, while any sign of infection will be treated with antibiotics. At times, the infant may require oxygen if breathing is obstructed. Once a treatment regimen has been put into place, the infant will need regular monitoring to ensure the condition is healing properly. In severe cases, surgery to remove the infected parts of the bowel may be necessary.


According to KidsHealth.org, feeding is withheld for up to ten days in most cases, though if treatment is effective, the infant can potentially resume a normal feeding schedule after three days. Treatment is most effective if begun as early as possible. Once treatment has been completed, pay close attention to your infant's health to ensure the disease does not recur. In the end, assuming there are no complications, a complete recovery is expected; however, some cases may cause scarring of the intestinal tract and problems with the absorption of nutrients in the future.


If treatment does not begin promptly, a worsening of the condition could lead to death. Even with prompt treatment, the potential still exists for serious complications, the risk of which is increased depending on the severity of condition as a whole. Possible complications include a perforated bowel, which could require surgical correction; sepsis, also known as an infection of the blood stream; and blockage or narrowing of the intestine due to a buildup of scar tissue.