Expert intestinal atresia care in Denver, Colorado

Intestinal atresia (IA) is a congenital condition in newborns that requires specialized care and experience. Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (RMHC) in Denver is uniquely equipped with highly trained staff and specialized technology to handle the needs of our tiniest patients with IA.

To contact one of our Center for Maternal/Fetal Health physician specialists, please call (720) 754-7642.
Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children - Center for Maternal/Fetal Health

IA (also called bowel obstruction or small bowel atresia) occurs when the intestine does not form properly and is closed off in one or more places. IA does not allow the free passage of food through the bowel, hindering nutritional absorption and the elimination of waste.

The severity of the condition depends on the location of the blockage, how significant it is and if segments of the bowel also are missing. The condition appears to run in families, but a genetic cause has not been determined.

Intestinal atresia can be life-threatening, but with proper treatment from RMHC’s pediatric care team of perinatologists, neonatologists, pediatric minimally invasive surgeons and experienced medical staff, newborns can recover fully and live full, healthy lives.

Types of intestinal atresia

There are different types of IA and each is named for the area it affects:

Duodenal atresia: A blockage occurs in the first part of the intestine between the stomach and the bowel. Duodenal atresia affects approximately one in 2,500 live births, while jejunoileal atresia (which is most often what IA describes) affects approximately one in every 1,000 live births.

Jejunoileal atresia: A blockage occurs in the jejunum (the largest part of the bowel which connects the duodenum to the ileum) or the ileum (the longest and last segment of bowel).

Intestinal atresia diagnosis

Intestinal atresia can be suspected before birth, but it is almost always diagnosed after birth. During pregnancy, an ultrasound may reveal a dilated or enlarged bowel, which can be an indication of a blockage.

Additionally, extra amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios) may be detected, which can indicate the presence of IA. If IA is suspected, your perinatologist will closely monitor the pregnancy and your baby’s growth.

After birth, babies with IA may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Lack of bowel movements
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Vomiting (especially yellow or green)
  • Lack of desire to eat

To confirm IA and to learn more about your baby’s specific needs, our Denver neonatologists and pediatric minimally invasive surgery specialists may perform an X-ray, a contrast study (a special X-ray using dye) and/or a fetal echocardiogram (to check for any congenital heart defects).

Our team will also work with you to create a plan for delivery at a specialized, RMHC-affiliated hospital equipped to handle the immediate treatment of your baby.

Intestinal atresia treatment

Most babies with intestinal atresia do not require a Cesarean section (C-section) for delivery, but will require special attention just after birth. That is why expecting families with an IA diagnosis should plan delivery at a hospital specially equipped with a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), perinatologists, neonatologists and expert pediatric surgeons, such as RMHC.

If IA is not diagnosed until after birth, your baby will be transferred to a specialized hospital, like RMHC, that can provide treatment for the newborn.

Surgery is usually performed in the first few days after birth to treat IA. Our surgeons at RMHC are highly skilled in using laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgical techniques to reduce the impact of surgery on your baby’s body. During surgery, tiny instruments are used to remove the affected area and reconnect the healthy parts of the stomach and intestine.

After surgery, nutrition will be provided through a vein until signs of good bowel function are clear. This is usually about two to three weeks after surgery.

To talk with specialists from our Center for Maternal/Fetal Health team, call (720) 754-7642.

Long-term outlook for intestinal atresia

Babies with intestinal atresia can have minor intestinal problems during the days and weeks following surgery. Follow-up care with a nutritionist to track growth is important. However, with proper treatment and follow-up care, most IA babies go on to lead happy, healthy, normal lives.