What are the Health Complications of Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is an often misunderstand and overlooked threat to many infants and newborns in the United States. NEC is a life-threatening condition that affects the gastrointestinal health of vulnerable infants and premature babies.

The painful condition can be fatal among young children if not diagnosed and treated quickly. NEC also could cause ongoing health issues and related medical costs to treat them. A combination of therapies can provide beneficial results, especially when the NEC is diagnosed early.

A wide range of commonly occurring health complications might occur with NEC. Those complications often have lasting effects on surviving infants due to developmental issues and ongoing health complications. The following is a closer look at them and how they might affect a child’s health.

Neurodevelopmental Delays

Neurodevelopment is what happens when an infant’s body organizes the neural pathways that comprise the central nervous system. The process actually starts while still within the womb and continues for many years after birth. It includes the rapid development of the child’s brain before and after birth that ultimately affects that child’s physical and mental abilities while growing up and as an adult.

A healthy infant can develop and grow at good pace, but one afflicted with NEC often endures neurodevelopmental delays (NDDs) that greatly slow that pace. NDDs have many potentially lasting and adverse effects in children that could carry on into adulthood.

Strictures and Adhesions

Babies who survive the early risks of NEC often develop colonic or intestinal strictures and adhesions that create potential health complications. Strictures and adhesions are commonly occurring complications that could lead to life-threatening conditions. A combination of therapies, treatments, and surgeries generally improve survival rates when the condition is caught early and medical treatment is applied.


Bowel perforation or necrosis are painful conditions. Cholestasis occurs when the bowel or intestines have perforations that enable matter to pass through that otherwise could not. NEC and cholestasis often are closely associated and increasing in frequency in recent years.

Short Bowel Syndrome

The effects of NEC could result in short bowel syndrome, which means the child’s body cannot absorb nutrients and fluids well enough to maintain good health. Either part of the small intestine is missing or otherwise is not working properly with short bowel syndrome. In some cases, a surgeon might have removed a large section of the small intestine to treat the NEC.

Since children need more calories and nutrients than adults to develop and grow properly, small bowel syndrome could have long-lasting developmental effects. Dietary changes can help children with NEC to manage small bowel syndrome and might include intravenous feedings of nutritional solutions.

Intestinal Failure

When a surgical treatment for NEC causes short bowel syndrome in an infant, it runs a high risk of intestinal failure. Intestinal failure occurs when the infant cannot take in fluids and nutrients naturally, which is a life-threatening condition. The problem is especially dangerous due to it occurring more often in infants born prematurely and who already have a compromised immunity system.


The NEC condition can result in lesions and similar injuries that lead to the onset of sepsis. Postnatal sepsis is an especially common complication for infants who are born very early and weigh less than normal. Babies born early and with NEC often wind up more susceptible to sepsis and run a much higher risk of slower mental development due to NDDs.

Infant Weight Matters

The potential for surviving NEC and leading a relatively normal life are much greater the more the infant weighs at birth. According to an article provided by the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD), an infant that weighs less than 53 ounces suffers a mortality rate that is 10 percent to 50 percent higher than babies who weigh more than 88 ounces. Infants who are born extremely prematurely and weigh less than 35 ounces at birth have mortality rates ranging from 40 to 100 percent.

NEC Survival Rates are Improving

Among infants who survive NEC, about half wind up with long-term health complications, says the article provided by GARD. Intestinal stricture and short bowel syndrome are the most commonly occurring long-term health effects. While stricture could occur naturally, short bowel syndrome occurs in nearly a quarter of all cases when surgery is performed to remove part of the small intestine.

Although about half of all infants with NEC wind up with long-term health problems, the other half generally wind up living mostly normal lives with no health complications. Short bowel syndrome generally is the most serious complication, but many infants wind up developing well enough to fully overcome short bowel syndrome after about two years of growth. Most babies who have NEC but do not suffer from extensive intestinal problems often gain normal bodily functions within one to 10 years.

St. Louis NEC Lawyers at The Cates Law Firm, LLC Provide Legal Help to Those Suffering From NEC Complications

NEC is a rare condition that afflicts a relatively small percentage of infants. When infants suffer from NEC, medical malpractice may be at play. The St. Louis NEC lawyers at The Cates Law Firm, LLC can review your case to determine if medical malpractice caused your infant’s NEC complications. Call us at 618-277-3644 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Swansea, Illinois, we serve clients throughout 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.