A role for abdominal ultrasound in discriminating suspected necrotizing enterocolitis in congenital heart disease patients

Pediatr Surg Int. 2022 Feb;38(2):225-233. doi: 10.1007/s00383-021-05025-7. Epub 2021 Sep 28.


Purpose: We evaluated the diagnostic utility of abdominal ultrasound (AUS), an adjunct to abdominal X-ray (AXR), for necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in congenital heart disease (CHD) patients.

Methods: 86 patients with suspected NEC from 2009 to 2018 were classified as with CHD (n = 18) if they required cardiac intervention versus without CHD (n = 68). Clinical and radiological data were collected, including AXR and AUS concordance. Wilcoxon rank-sum test and Fisher's exact test were performed.

Results: CHD patients had higher birth weights (p < 0.001) and gestational ages (p < 0.001) than non-CHD patients. CHD patients presented more frequently with hypotension (p = 0.041) and less frequently with bilious emesis (p < 0.001). Overall, CHD patients were less likely to have AUS findings of pneumatosis (33.3 vs. 72.1%; p = 0.005) and decreased mural flow (0 vs. 20.6%; p = 0.035) compared to non-CHD patients. On concordance analysis, CHD patients had 3.9-fold more discordant studies with pneumatosis on AXR but not on AUS (33.3 vs. 8.8%; p = 0.016) compared to non-CHD patients. Urgent surgery was required in 5.6% of CHD patients versus 16.2% of non-CHD patients.

Conclusion: CHD patients with suspected NEC represent a distinct clinical population. AUS has particular utility in assessing findings of bowel viability in the CHD NEC population, reflecting reduced rates of surgical NEC.

Keywords: Abdominal radiograph; Abdominal ultrasound; Cardiac; Congenital heart disease; Necrotizing enterocolitis; Pneumatosis.

MeSH terms

  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing* / diagnostic imaging
  • Heart Defects, Congenital* / complications
  • Heart Defects, Congenital* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Ultrasonography