Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a leading cause of death among patients in the neonatal intensive care unit, carrying a mortality rate of 15-30%. Its pathogenesis is multifactorial and involves an overreactive response of the immune system to an insult. This leads to increased intestinal permeability, bacterial translocation, and sepsis. There are many inflammatory mediators involved in this process, but thus far none has been shown to be a suitable target for preventive or therapeutic measures. NEC usually occurs in the second week of life after the initiation of enteral feeds, and the diagnosis is made based on physical examination findings, laboratory studies, and abdominal radiographs. Neonates with NEC are followed with serial abdominal examinations and radiographs, and may require surgery or primary peritoneal drainage for perforation or necrosis. Many survivors are plagued with long term complications including short bowel syndrome, abnormal growth, and neurodevelopmental delay. Several evidence-based strategies exist that may decrease the incidence of NEC including promotion of human breast milk feeding, careful feeding advancement, and prophylactic probiotic administration in at-risk patients. Prevention is likely to have the greatest impact on decreasing mortality and morbidity related to NEC, as little progress has been made with regard to improving outcomes for neonates once the disease process is underway.
Copyright © 2011. Published by Elsevier Ltd.