Necrotizing enterocolitis, also known as NEC, is a gastrointestinal illness that most commonly occurs in premature infants. Roughly one in 1,000 preterm infants will contract the disease, while only one in 10,000 full-term infants is diagnosed with NEC. NEC occurs in the small or large intestines.
As bacteria build up in the intestinal tract, they can begin to destroy the tissue that makes up the intestinal lining. This can result in tissue death and perforations in the intestinal wall, which allows bacteria and waste to seep into the abdomen. Bacteria can also get into the bloodstream and circulate around the body, causing a severe infection.
NEC has numerous causes, including viral and bacterial infections, intestinal injuries, underdeveloped intestines, and a lack of oxygen or blood flow to the intestines. NEC can also be caused by feeding preterm infants cow’s milk-based formulas like Similac and Enfamil. In fact, recent research has revealed that premature babies who receive bovine milk-based baby formulas are more likely to develop NEC than preterm infants who subsist exclusively on human breast milk.
Symptoms of NEC in Preterm Infants
Some of the most common signs of NEC in premature infants include pain and swelling in the abdominal cavity, green and yellow vomit, lethargy, lack of weight gain, lack of appetite, constipation, apnea, slowed heart rate, hypotension (low blood pressure), and fluctuations in body temperature, among other symptoms.
Most premature infants who suffer from NEC are born before 32 weeks of gestation. Infants who are diagnosed with NEC usually start showing symptoms of the illness within two to four weeks of being born.
Complications Associated with NEC
Numerous complications can arise from NEC, and some of them have life-altering consequences. One of the most common complications is perforations in the intestinal lining, which can lead to an abdominal infection known as peritonitis. Infants who contract peritonitis are more likely to later develop a severe blood infection known as sepsis. Sepsis is often life-threatening.
Another common complication premature infants may suffer due to NEC is intestinal strictures, although intestinal strictures often do not develop for months after an infant has recovered from NEC. An intestinal stricture is essentially a narrowing of the intestinal tract. This can cause obstructions in the intestines and prevent food and waste from freely passing through to the bowels. According to the Cleveland Clinic, approximately one in three infants suffer from intestinal strictures after recovering from NEC.
Short bowel syndrome (also referred to as short gut syndrome) is another serious complication that babies with NEC can suffer. Short bowel syndrome leads to malabsorption in the intestines, which makes it difficult for the intestines to properly absorb the nutrients found in food. Infants who suffer from short bowel syndrome typically require ongoing care to ensure they get the nourishment they need. In particularly severe cases, children with short bowel syndrome might need to have a feeding tube inserted.
Available Treatments for NEC
Numerous treatments are available for NEC in premature infants. If no perforations have occurred and the disease is restricted to a small portion of the intestine, surgical intervention may not be needed. Antibiotics, switching to IV feedings, and using a nasogastric tube to relieve abdominal swelling by removing gas and fluids from the stomach are all common medical treatments for NEC.
If portions of the intestines are perforated or severely damaged, surgery may be required. During surgery, a physician will remove the damaged portions of the intestines and create a temporary ostomy (hole) in the abdomen that diverts waste from the rest of the intestinal tract while the intestines heal. Eventually, the intestines will be reconnected, and normal function can be restored.
As a result of research that has linked bovine milk-based baby formula with an increased risk of NEC in preterm infants, parents whose preterm newborns have been diagnosed with NEC as a result of being fed Similac or Enfamil have been filing lawsuits against the manufacturers of these product lines. The manufacturer of Similac is Abbott Laboratories, while Mead Johnson manufactures Enfamil products.
The plaintiffs in these lawsuits allege that these companies neglected to warn parents and medical providers about the dangers of feeding cow’s milk-based baby formula to premature infants. There are numerous individual NEC lawsuits pending in various courts. While some parents have chosen to file lawsuits in Illinois, where both manufacturers are located, others have filed NEC lawsuits in their home state.
TruLaw and its team of seasoned lawyers fight on behalf of individuals harmed by drugs, devices, chemicals, and other products. To date, TruLaw and its partner law firms have successfully collected over $3 billion through verdicts and settlements in all 50 states.
If you believe your baby developed NEC due to cow’s milk-based formulas such as Enfamil and Similac, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit. Use our Instant Case Evaluator to find out if you are eligible for a Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) lawsuit today. You must act quickly, before the statue of limitations expires.