Does necrotizing enterocolitis cause neurologic deficits?

Quite possibly (J Pediatr 2012; 160: 409-14).

There have been recent reports that surgery in preterm and even term infants can affect neurodevelopmental outcomes.  This report, which looked at infants born at <30 weeks or birth weight of <1250 g, adds more information in this area.  The surgery group (n=30) had more white matter injury on MRI and lower developmental scores at 2 years than the nonsurgical group (n=178).  Infants requiring bowel surgery had the worst outcomes.  The exact reasons for these outcomes and the significance are unclear, in part due to the small number of infants with bowel surgery.  Potential factors include inflammatory mediators/cytokines, and anesthesia effects.

The article notes that the FDA has issued warnings regarding anesthetic use in neonates and young children.  These agents may cause abnormalities in the developing brain, particularly in the thalamus.

This study has a number of limitations including the lack of preoperative comparative imaging studies.  Nevertheless, despite unresolved issues regarding causality, it is clear that infants who have necrotizing enterocolitis remain at high risk for poor neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Additional references:

  • -Anesth Analg 2007; 104: 509-20.  Anesthetics in neonates and young children.
  • -J Pediatr 2008; 153: 170-5. Adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes in infants with sepsis or NEC.