Contemporary Outcomes for Infants with Necrotizing Enterocolitis-A Systematic Review

J Pediatr. 2020 May:220:86-92.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2019.11.011. Epub 2020 Jan 22.


Objective: To develop an accurate understanding of outcomes for necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) to inform parental counseling, clinical care, and research agendas.

Study design: A systematic review of recent (January 2010-January 2018) large cohort studies reporting outcomes of infants who developed NEC. Only studies reporting national, regional, or multicenter outcomes of NEC in high income countries were included. Outcomes assessed were mortality, neurodevelopmental outcome, and intestinal failure. Meta-analyses were used to generate summary statistics for these outcomes.

Results: Of 1375 abstracts, 38 articles were included. Overall mortality was 23.5% in all neonates with confirmed NEC (Bell stage 2a+) (95% CI 18.5%-28.8%), 34.5% (30.1%-39.2%) for neonates that underwent surgery for NEC, 40.5% (37.2%-43.8%) for extremely low birthweight infants (<1000 g), and 50.9% (38.1%-63.5%) for extremely low birthweight infants with surgical NEC. Studies examining causes of neonatal mortality showed NEC is responsible for around 1 in 10 of all neonatal deaths. Neurodevelopmental disability was reported in 4 studies at between 24.8% and 61.1% (1209 total NEC cases). Three studies reported intestinal failure with an incidence of 15.2%-35.0% (n = 1370). The main limitation of this review is the lack of an agreed definition for diagnosing NEC and the differences in the way that outcomes are reported.

Conclusions: Mortality following NEC remains high. These contemporary data inform clinical care and justify ongoing research efforts. All infants with NEC should have long-term neurodevelopmental assessment. Data on the long-term risk of intestinal failure are limited.

Trial registration: CRD42018094791.

Keywords: intestinal failure; mortality; necrotizing enterocolitis; neurodevelopmental delay.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / complications*
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / mortality*
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / surgery
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Extremely Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / etiology