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Learning About Duodenal Atresia Repair in Children

Location of the duodenum, with detail of a healthy duodenum and duodenal atresia

What is duodenal atresia?

Duodenal atresia is a blockage between the first part of the small intestine (duodenum) and the stomach. It's a type of birth defect. Sometimes the duodenum doesn't form as it should before birth. That can cause a blockage between the stomach and small intestine. The blockage is called atresia. When this happens, food can't move from the stomach into the intestines.

This blockage is more common in premature babies (babies born early). It's also more common in babies born with other birth defects.

Babies can have surgery to open the blockage. It's most often done in the first few days after birth.

How is the surgery done?

Duodenal atresia repair is done soon after birth. The doctor will drain any liquids from your baby's stomach. This is done by putting a tube through the baby's mouth or nose and down to the stomach. An intravenous (I.V.) line is put in a vein to give your baby nutrients and fluids. The tube to the stomach and the I.V. will stay in place before, during, and after surgery. They will be removed when the intestines are able to work normally. That may take days or weeks.

When your baby is ready for the repair, they will get medicine. It will make your baby sleep during the surgery.

In most cases, the repair is done as open surgery. The doctor makes a cut in the baby's belly. The doctor opens the blocked part of the duodenum. Or the doctor may create a bypass to go around the blocked area. Stitches, staples, tape, or glue may be used to close the cut.

In some cases, the doctor does the surgery by putting a laparoscope and special tools through small cuts in the baby's belly.

What happens after surgery?

Your baby may have different fluid and nutritional needs after surgery. And your baby's bowel habits may be different.

Your baby may stay in the hospital for several days to weeks. It depends on when your baby can start to digest food. It also depends on your baby's general health. When your baby is getting enough nutrition and gains weight, the feeding tubes can be removed.

When you take your baby home, you'll get information and support so you can start home feeding and care.

You'll need to schedule regular checkups to see if your baby is gaining weight, getting enough nutrients, and growing as expected.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

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