Necrotizing Enterocolitis

California Pediatric Surgical Group

General Surgery & Pediatric Surgery located in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Ventura, & Thousand Oaks, CA

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a potentially life-threatening disease that causes inflammation in the intestines of newborns, especially premature infants. California Pediatric Surgical Group in Santa Maria, Thousand Oaks, Santa Barbara, and two Ventura, California, offices, is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide prompt treatment for babies with NEC. If your child has NEC, call the location nearest you or book an appointment online today for compassionate and professional care every step of the way.

Necrotizing Enterocolitis Q&A

What is necrotizing enterocolitis?

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a serious illness that primarily affects the intestines of premature infants. The smaller and more premature the infant, the higher the risk of NEC. Full-term babies can also get NEC, but it’s rare. 

NEC occurs when bacteria invades the wall of the baby’s intestine and causes a local infection. The infection causes inflammation that destroys some of the intestinal tissue. This damage may cause a hole to develop in the intestine that allows bacteria to leak out into the abdomen. 

A hole in the intestine is a medical emergency that requires surgical treatment. Once bacteria from the intestine enters the abdomen, the infection can escalate quickly.

How do I know if my baby has necrotizing enterocolitis?

Symptoms of NEC usually show up within two weeks after birth. Though NEC symptoms can vary, they often include:

  • Bloating or stomach swelling
  • A red or purplish stomach
  • Poor tolerance to feedings
  • Frequent vomiting that may be green in color
  • Bloody bowel movements


Signs of infection include a slow heart rate, pauses in breathing (apnea), and sluggishness. Because signs and symptoms of NEC are similar to other causes of infection, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis at California Pediatric Surgical Group.

How is necrotizing enterocolitis diagnosed?

The doctor first asks you to describe your baby’s symptoms and reviews their medical history. They perform a physical exam that may include tests, such as an abdominal X-ray to check for signs of air or gas bubbles. They may also insert a needle into your baby’s abdomen to check for intestinal fluid.

How is necrotizing enterocolitis treated?

Initial treatment for NEC typically involves medical intervention. Most infants with NEC improve with nonsurgical treatments, such as:

  • Discontinuing regular feedings by mouth and starting IV feedings
  • Administering antibiotics to fight the infection
  • Running a tube from the stomach to the nose or mouth to remove air and fluid
  • Monitoring the condition with blood work and X-rays

If your baby’s condition doesn’t improve or if their condition is severe, your California Pediatric Surgical Group physician may recommend surgery to remove the damaged section of the intestine. The presence of a hole in the intestine requires immediate surgery.

Call California Pediatric Surgical Group or book an appointment online today for expert care of necrotizing enterocolitis.

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