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January 2017

New Medical and Surgical Insights Into Neonatal Necrotizing Enterocolitis: A Review

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Pediatrics, NorthShore University HealthSystem, Evanston, Illinois
  • 2University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois
  • 3Center for Advanced Intestinal Rehabilitation, Department of Surgery, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(1):83-88. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.2708

Importance  Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) has long remained a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in neonatal intensive care units. While the mainstay of treatment for this devastating condition remains largely supportive, research efforts continue to be directed toward understanding pathophysiology as well as how best to approach surgical management when indicated.

Observations  In this review, we first examine recent medical observations, including overviews on the microbiome and a brief review of the use of probiotics. Next, we discuss the use of biomarkers and how clinicians may be able to use them in the future to predict the course of disease and, perhaps, the need for surgical intervention. We then provide an overview on the use of exclusive human milk feeding and the utility of this approach in preventing NEC. Finally, we discuss recent developments in the surgical management of NEC, beginning with indications for surgery and following with a section on technical surgical considerations, including peritoneal drain vs laparotomy. The review concludes with outcomes from infants with surgically treated NEC.

Conclusions and Relevance  Although medical treatment options for NEC are largely unchanged, understanding of the disease continues to evolve. As new research methods are developed, NEC pathophysiology can be more completely understood. In time, it is hoped that data from ongoing and planned clinical trials will allow us to routinely add targeted preventive measures in addition to human milk, such as prebiotics and probiotics, to the management of high-risk infants. In addition, the discovery of novel biomarkers may not only prove useful in predicting severity of illness but also will hopefully allow for identification of the disease prior to onset of clinical signs. Finally, continued investigation into optimizing surgical outcomes is essential in this population of infants, many of whom require long-term parenteral therapy and intestinal rehabilitation.

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