What is necrotizing enterocolitis?
The words necrotizing enterocolitis [neck-ro-tie-zing
en-tear-oh-ko-lie-tis], or NEC, describe a disease of
the intestines.
With NEC, part of the lining of the intestine breaks
down. This affects how the baby’s digestive
system processes food.
What causes NEC?
The cause of NEC is not known. NEC is
most common in premature babies and/or
babies who are already ill. Other possible
risk factors may include:
• Low birth weight
• Chorioamnionitis (infection in the placenta and
the fluid surrounding the baby. This most often
happens when there is a long time between
when the mother’s water breaks and when
the baby is delivered.)
• Low oxygen levels during birth
• Congenital heart disease. Congenital means
existing at birth.
• Blood exchange tranfusion
NEC UNDERSTANDING
Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)
SMALL INTESTINE CROSS-SECTION
Normal
intestinal
lining
Inflammation
of intestinal lining
Large
intestine
Small
intestine
What are the symptoms of NEC?
Symptoms of NEC may come on slowly or quickly.
They can include:
• Bloating
• Diarrhea
• Low activity level
• Vomiting
Is NEC life-threatening?
NEC is a serious disease, and it can be life-threatening. Early, aggressive treatment helps
improve the chances of survival.

Treating Necrotizing Enterocolitis
What treatment will my baby receive?
When NEC is suspected or diagnosed in a baby:
• Feedings by mouth are stopped
• A tube is inserted into the baby’s stomach to relieve
gas pressure
• Fluids are delivered intravenously (through an IV)
• Antibiotics are given

How will I know how my baby is doing?
The NICU team will keep you up-to-date on your baby’s progress.
At first, babies with NEC receive X-rays and blood tests several
times a day. As the  As the baby gets better, these tests may get
less frequent.

Will my baby need surgery?
Some babies with NEC will need surgery. This may happen if:
• There is a lot of damage to the intestine
• There are holes or tears (perforations) in the wall of
the intestine
• If the baby has peritonitis (inflammation of the inner wall
of the abdomen)
• If the baby is not getting better with non-surgical treatment

What will happen next?
Many babies respond well to treatment for NEC; however,
each baby is different. Talk to your baby’s health care team.
They can answer any questions you have about your baby.

Glossary
Antibiotics – medicines that fight
infections caused by bacteria
Chorioamnionitis
[kor-e-o-am-nee-o-ni-tis] – infection
in the placenta and the fluid
surrounding the baby
Blood exchange transfusions
process of slowly removing the
baby’s blood and replacing it
with fresh donor blood
Bowel – word commonly used
to describe the large and small
intestines
Congenital – existing at birth
Enterocolitis – irritation of
the intestines
Necrotizing – causes tissue to break
down
Peritonitis – inflammation of the
wall of the abdomen
Perforation – hole or tear

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