Can a Medical Error Contribute to the Severity of Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Medical Malpractice

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a serious intestinal condition that can occur in newborn infants. It is more common in premature or underweight newborns, but it can develop in the first two weeks of any newborn baby’s life. NEC happens when bacteria attacks the intestinal wall and causes it to become infected and inflamed. In severe cases, the intestinal wall develops perforations that allow bacteria to spill over into the baby’s abdomen, spreading the infection throughout the body. This can prove fatal for many premature infants as they are unable to defend themselves against such a widespread and severe infection.

When recognized and diagnosed early, NEC can be treated without the need for invasive surgery, and most infants make a full recovery without any long-term complications. Since it is important to catch NEC early, a medical error can mean the difference between life and death for a premature infant with NEC.

What Causes NEC?

NEC is more common in infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Babies weighing less than approximately 3 pounds, 4 ounces are affected the most. It is thought that premature infants are more susceptible to NEC because of their undeveloped lungs and other organs. This means their digestive and immune systems are less efficient, and they have more trouble circulating oxygenated blood through the body, particularly the lining of the intestine.

Doctors have identified the following additional risk factors for NEC:

  • Feeding the baby formula rather than breast milk.
  • Deprivation of oxygen during or around the time of birth.
  • Difficult delivery.
  • Viral or bacterial infections of the intestine.
  • Too many red blood cells.

What are the Symptoms of NEC?

NEC usually presents in the first two weeks after birth. Common signs and symptoms associated with NEC include some or all of the following:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Inability to tolerate feedings
  • Vomiting green bile
  • Blood in stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal discoloration
  • Lethargy
  • Low or unstable body temperature
  • Elevated or unstable heart rate
  • Low or unstable blood pressure

When these symptoms are recognized quickly by medical staff or caregivers and treated, the risk of complications from NEC are greatly reduced. Any delay can allow the infection to spread, which makes it much harder for a premature infant to recover. Delays can happen when a physician fails to diagnose NEC or makes an incorrect diagnosis, which wastes precious time.

How is NEC Diagnosed and Treated?

To determine if an infant has NEC, a doctor can look for the signs of infection and use tests and X-rays to make a diagnosis. Stool can be tested for blood, and an X-ray of the abdomen can help show if there is air in the intestines or the large veins of the liver. The doctor can also use a needle inserted into the baby’s abdominal cavity to look for intestinal fluid, which is a sign of NEC.

Once diagnosed, treatment of NEC can begin. Usually, the first step is to stop feedings and administer antibiotics to fight the infection. Simultaneously, intravenous fluids are given to supply nutrition to the baby and maintain hydration. It may be necessary to insert a nasogastric tube to keep the stomach empty of food, air, and gas. The infant may also require extra oxygen or a machine to assist breathing. The infant’s condition should be monitored with frequent X-rays and blood tests that will show how the infection is progressing.

Severe cases of NEC may require that the diseased part of the intestine be removed surgically. Another type of treatment involves connecting part of the intestine to an opening on the abdomen until the infection has improved and the intestine has healed. Then, another surgery is performed to reconnect the bowel.

What are the Complications of NEC?

As with any disease, recovery for infants with NEC depends on many factors, such as the severity of infection and quality of care and treatment. While many infants recover fully from NEC, some may develop long-term complications, which may include problems properly absorbing nutrients through the intestines or intestinal blockages from scarring and narrowing. In severe cases, a bowel transplant may be necessary.

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical professionals have an obligation to provide a standard of care. This is the quality of care that another health provider of similar background would provide in the same or similar situation. Medical malpractice occurs when the standard of care is not met and the patient is injured or their health is compromised as a result.

Not every medical mistake meets the criteria for a medical malpractice claim. Examples of medical negligence include failure to diagnose a medical condition or failure to respond quickly to a medical issue that could become serious.

Compensation Options in Medical Malpractice Cases

When a diagnosis is delayed and a condition like NEC becomes severe and requires extensive treatment, medical bills can add up quickly. In many cases, one parent leaves their job to care for the sick infant. The baby may also require medical care and treatment down the road as they recover from an ordeal that could have been avoided. Families seeking damages for medical negligence may be awarded some or all of the following types of compensation:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Long-term care expenses
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Decrease in quality of life
  • Death benefits

Talking to a skilled lawyer with experience in birth injuries cases can help clarify if a medical malpractice case is worth pursuing.

St. Louis NEC Lawyers at Cates Mahoney, LLC Help Clients Establish a Medical Malpractice NEC Case

A child’s suffering is difficult, especially when it was preventable. If you think you have experienced negligent medical care, the St. Louis NEC lawyers at Cates Mahoney, LLC can help you. Call 618-277-3644 or complete an online form for a free consultation. Located in Swansea, Illinois, we serve clients in St. Louis, Belleville, East St. Louis, Edwardsville, Granite City, Waterloo, Chester, Carbondale, St. Clair County, Madison County, Monroe County, Randolph County, and other regions throughout Southern Illinois.