Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a gastrointestinal emergency characterized by ischemic necrosis of the intestinal mucosa, leading to bacterial translocation and pneumatosis of the bowel wall. Although there are numerous studies on clinical presentations of preterm NEC, approximately 10–15% of cases occur in full-term neonates. Nearly 10% of all infants with NEC will develop a rapidly progressive and fatal form of the disease called NEC totalis.
A 24-day-old term male infant presented to the Emergency Department (ED) with emesis. The infant was ill-appearing with a tense abdomen and had significant tachycardia and hypotension. The patient was immediately volume resuscitated and started on empiric antibiotics. Initial radiographs revealed no evidence of bowel obstruction or pneumatosis. Pediatric Surgery was consulted, and upper gastrointestinal and abdominal computed tomography scans were obtained, which were nondiagnostic. The patient was taken to the operating room for an exploratory laparotomy after continued clinical deterioration and was diagnosed with NEC totalis and passed away within 6 days.
Why Should an Emergency Physician Be Aware of This?
This case demonstrates an uncommon presentation of NEC in an otherwise healthy term neonate without any known risk factors. The diagnosis of NEC is challenging because imaging studies may be inconclusive, particularly early in the clinical course. Regardless of the etiology, all infants who present to the ED with signs and symptoms of severe gastrointestinal distress should be treated with basic emergency care, including rapid fluid resuscitation, empiric antibiotics, bowel decompression, and early surgical consultation.
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Published online: March 31, 2020
Accepted: February 16, 2020
Received in revised form: January 28, 2020
Received: November 12, 2019
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