Intestinal atresia is present at birth. It is an area of the intestine that has not formed correctly. In some, the intestine may be completely closed off. Atresia makes it impossible for food or fluids to pass through.
Atresia can happen in the small or large intestines and may be named by the location:
Normal Anatomy of the Intestines
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It is not exactly clear what causes intestinal atresia. Low blood flow to the intestines during development may play a role.
Some types of atresia have a genetic link. They tend to occur in families.
Risk factors of jejuno-ileal atresia include use of tobacco or cocaine during pregnancy.
Atresia may cause extra fluid to surround the baby during pregnancy.
After birth, symptoms in the baby may include:
A prenatal ultrasound will be able to detect extra fluid around the baby. The doctor may suspect the extra fluid is due to atresia. More tests will be planned after birth to confirm the diagnosis.
After birth, your child’s doctor will review your child’s symptoms. Images of the intestines will be taken to confirm the diagnosis and locate the atresia. Tests that will help create images of the intestines include:
Some types of atresia are associated with other health problems. To look for other related problems the doctor may order:
Intestinal atresia cannot be treated until after birth.
Treatment will include surgery to repair the intestine and supportive care.
Nutrition normally enters the body through the intestines. Since the intestines are not working properly, nutrition will be delivered directly into the blood stream. Your baby will have an IV or small bellybutton tube. Nutrition will be delivered through the tube before and after surgery.
After surgery, the intestines will need a few days or weeks to heal. Small amounts of breast milk or formula will be slowly introduced to your baby. IV nutrition will continue to support your baby during this transition. The IV will be removed when your baby can tolerate enough breast milk or formula.
Fluid and gas can build up in the intestine. They can cause uncomfortable swelling in the abdomen and vomiting. The fluid and gas can cause complications during surgery.
A tube will be passed through the nose and into the stomach. The tube will drain fluids and gas out of the stomach and intestines. This will relieve some of the pressure in the abdomen.
Surgery will be needed to remove the damaged part of the intestine. The healthy parts of the intestine will be reconnected. Additional steps may depend on the amount of intestine that is damaged. A large area may need more than one surgery.
A feeding tube may be placed through the abdomen. This tube will help drain the stomach and deliver food.
Surgery in the lower intestine may also require a colostomy. The upper part of the remaining intestine is attached to an opening in the abdominal wall. This will allow waste to pass out of the body and give the lower intestines time to heal.
Most babies do well after surgery. Follow-up care will ensure that the intestines are working as expected.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Intestinal atresia. Seattle Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.seattlechildrens.org/medical-conditions/digestive-gastrointestinal-conditions/intestinal-atresia. Accessed August 14, 2013.
Intestinal atresia and stenosis. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/i/obstructions. Updated August 2010. Accessed August 14, 2013.
Intestinal atresia and stenosis in children. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/intestinal-atresia-and-stenosis. Published 2011. Accessed August 14, 2013.
Intestinal atresia or stenosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: ://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 29, 2013. Accessed August 14, 2013.
Last reviewed August 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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