Intestinal Atresia

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:

  • Causes

    It is not exactly clear what causes intestinal atresia. Low blood flow to the intestines during development may play a role.

  • Definition

    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:

    • Pyloric atresia—just after the stomach
    • Duodenal atresia—first portion of small intestine by the stomach
    • Jejunal atresia—small intestine between upper and lower portions
    • Ilial atresia—occurs in last portion of small intestine
    • Colonic atresia—occurs in large colon
    Normal Anatomy of the Intestines
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    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis


    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:

    • X-ray
      of the belly
    • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) series of x-rays
    • Lower GI series of x-rays

    Some types of atresia are associated with other health problems. To look for other related problems the doctor may order:


    • An
      echocardiogram
      of the heart

    • Genetic screening such as
      amniocentesis
      —before birth
    • Images of the kidney

    • A sweat chloride test to check for cystic fibrosis

  • Prevention

    There are no known steps to prevent intestinal atresia. There may be a link between atresia and smoking
    and cocaine
    during pregnancy.

  • Risk Factors

    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.

  • Symptoms

    Atresia may cause extra fluid to surround the baby during pregnancy.

    After birth, symptoms in the baby may include:

    • Vomiting
    • Swelling of the abdomen
    • Lack of a first stool
    • Lack of interest in feedings

  • Treatment

    Intestinal atresia cannot be treated until after birth.

    Treatment will include surgery to repair the intestine and supportive care.