Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a condition, generally affecting premature infants, in which the intestines become ischemic (lack oxygen and/or blood flow). NEC occurs in up to 5-15% of extremely low birth weight (ELBW) infants. Isolated or focal intestinal perforation (IP) is a less common condition, affecting an estimated 4% of ELBWs, in which a hole develops in the intestines leaking fluid into the abdominal cavity. Outcome for infants with NEC and/or IP is poor: 49% die and half of the surviving infants are neurodevelopmentally impaired.
Surgical options for NEC and IP include two possible procedures: peritoneal drainage, in which a tube is placed in the abdominal cavity through a small incision for fluid to drain out; or laparotomy, in which an incision is made in the abdomen and necrotic intestine is removed. Drainage may be followed by a laparotomy.
The Neonatal Research Network's observational study of 156 ELBW infants with NEC or IP (Pediatrics. 2006 Apr; 117(4): e680-7) showed comparable outcomes for the two procedures before hospital discharge, but suggested an advantage of laparotomy over drainage at 18-22 months corrected age with lower rates of death or neurodevelopmental impairment. However, the infants that underwent laparotomy were more mature; infants with drains were smaller and more premature. We hypothesize that initial laparotomy may improve an infant's long-term neurodevelopmental outcome, potentially by reducing the maximum severity or duration of inflammation.
This study is a randomized controlled trial to compare the effectiveness of laparotomy versus drainage for treating NEC or IP in extremely low birth weight infants. Target enrollment is 300 infants diagnosed with NEC or IP for randomization to receive initially either a laparotom