Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Intestinal Atresia

What Is Intestinal Atresia?

Intestinal atresia (IA) is a condition that occurs when part of your child's intestine doesn't form completely. Instead of being an open tube, the intestine is closed off in one or more places. Some children are missing segments of the intestine between the closed spots. Intestinal atresia prevents food and stool (feces) from moving all the way through your child's body.

The severity of intestinal atresia varies. Your child may have just a small blockage, or they may be missing large segments of intestine.

Intestinal atresia can happen in the large intestine, but it is more common in the small intestine. Doctors sometimes describe IA by naming the part of the intestine it affects. IA can be in:

  • The first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum (pronounced due-ODD-en-um)
  • The middle part of the small intestine, called the jejunum (pronounced jeh-JUNE-um)
  • The last part of the small intestine, called the ileum (pronounced ILL-ee-um)
  • The large intestine

The cause of IA in the first part of the small intestine is different than its cause in other parts of the intestine. Having atresia in parts of the jejunum, ileum or colon is linked to having with atresia in other parts of the intestine. Atresia in the duodenum may be associated with problems in other parts of the body.

Intestinal Atresia in Children

Intestinal atresia is present when your baby is born (congenital). Duodenal atresia is due to a problem in the way the duodenum forms while your baby is developing. Intestinal atresia in other parts of the intestine usually is caused by the loss of blood supply at the part of the intestine that closes off.

About 1 in 2,500 babies has duodenal atresia. About 1 in 1,000 babies has jejunal or ileal atresia.

Intestinal Atresia at Seattle Children's

We have treated many children with intestinal atresia. Our surgeons are experienced at performing the operation that creates an intestine and allows food and stool to pass so these children can thrive. Each year, we take care of about 20 to 30 babies with intestinal atresia.

When you come to Seattle Children's, you have a team of people to care for your child before, during and after surgery. Along with your child's surgeon, you are connected with doctors trained to care for new babies with complex problems (neonatologists), nurses, dietitians, child life specialists, social workers and others. We work together to meet all of your child's health needs and help your family through this experience.

Since 1907, Seattle Children's has been treating children only. Our team members are trained in their fields and also in meeting the unique needs of children. For example, the doctors who give your child anesthesia are board certified in pediatric anesthesiology. This means they have extra years of training in how to take care of kids. Our child life specialists know how to help children understand their illnesses and treatments in ways that make sense for their age. Our expertise in pediatrics truly makes a difference for our patients and families.