Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Necrotizing Enterocolitis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Babies with necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) may have these symptoms:

  • Green vomit (also called bilious because it contains bile, a liquid made in the liver to help digest fats)
  • Diarrhea or bloody stools (feces)
  • Swollen belly (abdomen)
  • Red or blue color in the belly
  • Tiredness, sluggishness or no energy (lethargy)
  • Problems keeping a normal body temperature
  • Breathing problems
  • Slow heart rate

Necrotizing Enterocolitis Diagnosis

If your child has symptoms of NEC, your child's doctor will go over a detailed history of your child's illness. The doctor will do a thorough exam and may do blood tests to check for:

  • High or low white blood cell level (caused by infection)
  • Low platelet level (caused by poison released by bacteria)
  • High level of acid in the blood (caused by dying tissue)

The doctor may also check your child's stool for blood.

Your child may need X-ray s of their belly and chest to look for these signs of NEC:

  • Pockets of air inside the wall of the intestine (pneumatosis intestinalis, caused by bacteria)
  • Air bubbles in the vein from the intestines to the liver (portal vein gas, caused when the blood absorbs air that built up in the wall of the intestines)
  • Air inside the belly but outside the intestines (pneumoperitoneum, caused when the intestines get holes and air leaks out)
  • Fluid inside the belly (ascites, caused when the intestines get holes and fluid leaks out)
  • Enlarged loops of intestine that do not move (which may mean that part of the intestine has died)