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Prospective evaluation of the impact of sonography on the management and surgical intervention of neonates with necrotizing enterocolitis

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Established indications for surgery in necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) are pneumoperitoneum and failure to improve or clinical deterioration with medical treatment alone. It has been proposed that infants with intestinal necrosis may benefit from surgery in the absence of one of these indications yet the diagnosis of definitive intestinal necrosis is challenging. Recent data suggest that abdominal ultrasound (US) examination focused on the gastrointestinal tract and the peritoneal cavity may be of utility in this regard. The aim of this study was to evaluate the ability of abdominal US to detect intestinal necrosis in infants with radiographically confirmed NEC.


Twenty-six consecutive infants with Bell stage II or III NEC were prospectively included in the study between September 2013 and July 2014. Infants with a pre-existing indication for surgery were excluded. At least one abdominal US examination was performed in each patient using a standardized previously described method. Surgery was performed at the discretion of the attending surgeon based on clinical and imaging findings. Clinical, radiographic, US, and intra-operative data were recorded to allow comparison between US findings, surgical findings and outcome.


US demonstrated signs of intestinal necrosis in 5 of the 26 patients. All of these five had laparotomy. Intestinal necrosis requiring resection was confirmed in four and the other was found to have NEC but no necrosis was identified. In 21 patients US did not suggest intestinal necrosis. Of these, only one had surgery in whom NEC but no necrosis was identified. The remaining 20 responded to medical treatment for NEC and were assumed not to have had intestinal necrosis based on improvement without surgical intervention. The sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value and negative predictive values of US for the detection of bowel necrosis were calculated as 100, 95.4, 80.0, and 100 %, respectively.


Our prospective findings suggest that abdominal US can identify those infants with NEC who may need surgery by detecting bowel necrosis (prior to the development of perforation or medical deterioration) with high sensitivity and specificity. Early surgical intervention in the clinical pathway of NEC may lead to improved outcomes.

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Correspondence to Nigel J. Hall.

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Yikilmaz, A., Hall, N.J., Daneman, A. et al. Prospective evaluation of the impact of sonography on the management and surgical intervention of neonates with necrotizing enterocolitis. Pediatr Surg Int 30, 1231–1240 (2014).

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