Emergency laparotomy in infants born at <26 weeks gestation: a neonatal network-based cohort study of frequency, surgical pathology and outcomes

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Identify the proportion of infants born at <26 completed weeks’ gestation who require emergency laparotomy, and review the surgical pathology, incidence of subsequent surgical procedures and outcome.


Retrospective cohort review.


Tertiary neonatal surgical unit.


All infants born at <26 weeks’ gestation in a neonatal network over an 8-year period.


Of 381 infants, laparotomy was indicated in 61 (16%) and performed in 57. Surgical pathology encountered included spontaneous intestinal perforation (SIP) (28), necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) (14), volvulus without malrotation (1), strangulated inguinal hernia (1), milk curd obstruction (4), NEC stricture (1) and meconium obstruction of prematurity (2). No intestinal pathology was found in six. Four infants with indications for laparotomy and severe comorbidity had intensive care withdrawn without surgery. The most frequent procedure performed was resection with primary anastomosis. Nine infants (16%) required more than one laparotomy. Of the 16 infants who had stoma formation, eight had closure before discharge. Fifteen infants required surgical patent ductus arteriosus ligation following laparotomy, and 17 had laser therapy for retinopathy of prematurity. Overall 42 infants with indication for laparotomy (69%) survived to discharge.


Nearly one in six infants born at <26 weeks required emergency laparotomy. The most frequent pathology encountered was SIP (49%), followed by NEC (25%). Over one-quarter required subsequent gastrointestinal surgery, with many also requiring cardiothoracic and ophthalmic procedures. These data are important for those caring for extremely preterm infants, the provision of information to parents and organisation of neonatal services.

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