Surgical treatments of infants with necrotizing enterocolitis

Semin Neonatol. 2003 Jun;8(3):223-32. doi: 10.1016/S1084-2756(03)00025-3.


With the improvements in neonatal intensive care, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) has become the most common gastrointestinal emergency amongst infants in neonatal intensive care units. The incidence of NEC varies between 1 and 8% of neonatal intensive care unit admissions and the disease has a mortality rate between 20 and 40%. There are a number of surgical options available to the paediatric surgeon depending on the clinical condition of the infant and the extent of the disease. However owing to a paucity of prospective data in this field and a lack of randomized controlled trials there is little consensus as to which is the most appropriate. Primary peritoneal drainage has become very popular in North America and Europe for the treatment of perforated NEC in very low-birthweight infants. It is a useful manoeuvre in the resuscitation of critically ill infants and in some of these infants, further operation may be avoided completely by inserting a peritoneal drain. Others however remain too unwell to undergo laparotomy and may die. Two randomized controlled trials are currently underway to determine the real benefit of peritoneal drainage. Laparotomy in very small neonates has become safer with improvements in anaesthesia and intensive care management. Resection and primary anastomosis has been proposed as a valid treatment modality in neonates with both focal and multifocal disease. The advantage of resection and primary anastomosis over stoma formation is still controversial. Different surgical techniques such as diverting jejunostomy or 'clip and drop' have been described to deal with extensive disease and avoid massive small bowel resection. Prospective studies and randomized controlled trials are needed to define the best operative treatment for neonates with severe NEC.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Treatment
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal