Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a severe intestinal illness that newborns—especially those born prematurely or underweight—can develop. The name, necrotizing enterocolitis, refers to the damage or death of cells in the lower part of the intestine.
If NEC is not properly diagnosed or treated it can result in severe medical problems for the infant and in such cases medical care providers may be liable for medical malpractice.
Necrotizing Enterocolitis Causes
It is not yet known exactly what causes NEC in babies, but experts believe that being deprived of oxygen during delivery could be a contributing factor because the lack of oxygen flow to the intestine can result in the intestine weakening, allowing bacteria from food to damage the infant’s intestinal tissues. When the tissues die, a hole can develop in the infant’s intestine, allowing an abdominal infection to occur.
Experts also suggest that risk factors contributing to necrotizing enterocolitis include excess red blood cells, premature birth, and other gastrointestinal infections.
Necrotizing enterocolitis typically develops within 3 and 12 days after birth. Between 60 to 80 percent of NEC cases occur in premature babies. It is typically diagnosed through an x-ray that can show signs of air or gas in the abdomen.
Doctors may also use a needle to withdraw a sample from the abdominal cavity as the existence of intestinal fluid in the abdominal cavity suggests a hole in the intestines.
Necrotizing Enterocolitis Complications
Necrotizing enterocolitis can develop quickly and can very easily cause other severe problems, including scarring or narrowing in the intestine, difficulty absorbing food, and severe infection. Although NEC can be treated and infants can recover, in severe cases it can cause death, particularly in situations where the infant is misdiagnosed or suffers additional medical complications.
Necrotizing Enterocolitis Symptoms
There are some common symptoms of necrotizing enterocolitis, although each infant may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) often develop in the first two weeks:
- Abdominal discoloration
- Abdominal swelling
- Abdominal bloating
- Green fluid in the stomach
- Blood in the stool
- Poor feeding
- Breathing issues such as apnea
Because NEC disease symptoms resemble the symptoms of other digestive conditions, it is vital to get a medical diagnosis so treatment can begin as soon as possible. The sooner medical treatment is obtained, the easier it will be to prevent the condition from becoming more serious.
Necrotizing Enterocolitis Treatment
Treatment of necrotizing enterocolitis differs from infant to infant depending on the baby’s individual circumstances, with the NEC in premature babies survival rate being good if infants receive prompt treatment. The doctor will consider the infant’s gestational age, how far the disease has progressed, and other medical factors. Treatment can typically include:
- Stopping feedings
- A tube that runs from the nose to the stomach to keep the stomach empty
- IV fluid treatment
- Surgery to remove the affected portion of the intestine
- Opening the abdomen and connecting a portion of the intestine to that opening
Premature Babies and Necrotizing Enterocolitis
Babies born prematurely are at the highest risk of NEC. This is because their organs are often underdeveloped, resulting in a lack of oxygenated blood being circulated throughout their bodies. As a result, premature babies and those who are deprived of oxygen during birth are at a higher risk of weakening of their intestinal walls due to lack of oxygenated blood.
Additionally, premature babies often have insufficient digestive and immune systems, further increasing their risk of becoming an NEC infant.
Necrotizing Enterocolitis and Medical Malpractice
Due to the potential for severe complications linked to NEC, medical professionals have a duty to be aware of the signs of an NEC newborn, recognize them when they appear and take necessary actions from preventing it from occurring. Failure to provide adequate medical care that results in an infant developing necrotizing enterocolitis can result in a medical malpractice claim against any healthcare professionals who did not take proper action.
Necrotizing enterocolitis lawsuits have been filed against doctors and other medical care providers, alleging their failure to diagnose and properly treat NEC resulted in either death to an infant or severe medical complications.
Necrotizing Enterocolitis Lawyers
Attorneys at Cutter Law specialize in personal injury cases and have extensive experience with birth injury claims. We fight tirelessly to obtain justice for our clients and ensure they receive the compensation they’re entitled to for harm done to them.
We know how traumatizing a birth injury is and we are here to guide you through the process and help you through this stressful time. Our lawyers have a proven track record of success and have obtained hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients.
If you have a birth injury claim or if your infant suffered from improperly treated necrotizing enterocolitis, contact our Sacramento and Oakland attorneys today for a no-obligation consultation to discuss your case.