Which infants are at highest risk for necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)?

Updated: Dec 27, 2017
  • Author: Shelley C Springer, JD, MD, MSc, MBA, FAAP; Chief Editor: Muhammad Aslam, MD  more...
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NEC is more prevalent in premature infants, with incidence inversely related to birth weight and gestational age. Although specific numbers range from 4% to more than 50%, infants who weigh less than 1000 g at birth have the highest attack rates. This rate dramatically drops to 3.8 per 1000 live births for infants who weigh 1501-2500 g at birth. Similarly, rates profoundly decrease for infants born after 35-36 weeks' postconceptional age.

The average age of onset in premature infants seems to be related to postconceptional age, with babies born earlier developing NEC at a later chronologic age. The average age of onset has been reported to be 20.2 days for babies born at less than 30 weeks' estimated gestational age (EGA), 13.8 days for babies born at 31-33 weeks' EGA, and 5.4 days for babies born after 34 weeks' gestation.

Term infants develop necrotizing enterocolitis much earlier, with the average age of onset within the first week of life or, sometimes, within the first 1-2 days of life. Observational studies have suggested the etiology of the disease in term and near-term infants may be different than that postulated in the premature infant and could include entities such as cow's milk protein–induced enterocolitis and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.

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