Background and purpose: Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a gastrointestinal emergency in neonates. Whether NEC affects infants' growth and development is controversial. The purpose of this study was to explore the clinical characteristics and outcome and to assess the effect of NEC on growth and neurodevelopment in infants.
Methods: A total of 80 neonates admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit from January 1991 to April 2002 with definite, advanced NEC, including 48 with modified Bell's stage II and 32 with stage III. Sixty six of the patients were premature. Very low birth weight (VLBW) preterm infants without NEC were used as matching controls for the 15 infants with VLBW. The growth and neurodevelopment of patients and controls were assessed using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development-II and compared at 6 and 18 months of corrected age.
Results: NEC developed an average of 27.7 days after feeding began. The most common initial signs were abdominal distension, decreased activity, hematochezia, and abdominal tenderness. Thirty four patients (43%) required surgical intervention. Three infants developed short bowel syndrome after surgical resection. The overall mortality was 24% (19/80) and was mostly associated with extensive bowel involvement and NEC-related sepsis or multiple organ failure. Of the surviving 61 infants, 12 (20%) developed intestinal strictures, 2 in the ileum, 6 in the colon, and 4 in both ileum and colon. Compared with controls, the VLBW infants with NEC were shorter and had delayed psychomotor development at 18 months of corrected age. Mental development, however, did not differ significantly.
Conclusions: Intestinal stricture was the most common gastrointestinal complication in this series of infants with NEC. Besides the bowel sequelae, VLBW infants who survive NEC are at risk for impairment of growth and neurodevelopment.