Intestinal perforation in the premature infant

OBJECTIVE: To compare demographic data, prenatal and postnatal characteristics, laboratory data, and outcomes in a cohort of premature infants with spontaneous ileal perforation (SIP), surgical necrotizing enterocolitis (sNEC) and matched controls.
METHODS: A retrospective case–control study of infants with intestinal perforation with a birth weight (BW) less than 2,000 grams and gestational age (GA) less than 34 weeks and infants without perforation matched for BW (±150 grams) and GA (±1week).
RESULTS: 130 premature infants were included, 30 infants with SIP, 35 infants with sNEC and 65 control infants. The median age of onset was 5 days postnatal age in SIP versus 25 days in sNEC (p < 0.001) and the peak onset was at 26 weeks corrected GA for SIP and 30 weeks corrected GA for sNEC. Infants with perforation had significantly higher rates of mortality (p < 0.001) and common morbidities associated with prematurity. Administration of corticosteroids and indomethacin did not differ among groups. SIP was more common among infants born to young mothers (p = 0.04) and less common in infants receiving caffeine (p = 0.02). sNEC was less common among infants receiving early red cell transfusion (p = 0.01). Perforation and sNEC trended towards less common in infants receiving inhaled nitric oxide.
CONCLUSION: SIP and sNEC are distinct clinical entities. Potential protective effects of caffeine, inhaled nitric oxide, and early transfusion should be further studied.

*Corresponding Author: 

Mark A. Underwood, Division of Neonatology, 2516 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95817, USA. Tel.: +1 916 734 5779; Fax: +1 916 456 2236; E-mail: