Meconium Ileus

December 14, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Meconium ileus can be a difficult and scary condition for a parent to encounter, but the good news is that it can be treated successfully. The most important step you can take as a parent is to be proactive about diagnosing and treating any issue that is causing bowel problems. By learning as much as you can about the potential causes of your baby’s condition and the effective therapeutic options, you can work closely with health professionals to make the best care decision for your family.

We’re happy to share this helpful guide that covers the causes, symptoms, treatments, and information about caring for a child with meconium ileus so you can be as well-informed as possible throughout the care journey.

What is meconium ileus?

Meconium ileus describes a bowel obstruction (blockage where stool can’t pass) caused by abnormally thick meconium, which becomes stuck in the small intestine. The meconium is the term for a baby’s first stool. The ileum is the very end of the small intestine.

A blockage in the small intestine will result in swelling of the abdomen and other symptoms and complications. Meconium ileus is often an early sign of cystic fibrosis, with approximately 90% of meconium cases being linked to the disease.

Types of Meconium Ileus

There are two primary types of meconium ileus, simple and complex:

  • Simple meconium ileus is when the meconium obstructs the ileum without further complications once the obstruction is clear
  • Complex meconium ileus is when the obstruction causes further complications to the baby’s small intestine or surrounding areas, including malformation, twisting, reduction of blood flow, and perforation.

The type of meconium ileus can have an impact on therapy, but in both cases, the condition can usually be successfully treated.

Meconium Ileus Causes & Risk Factors

As most parents know, meconium is generally darker, tar-like, and thicker than most poop. This is due to normal ingestion of amniotic fluid while in the womb. Meconium should usually pass within the first 24 to 48 hours after birth.

With meconium ileus, the first stool is even darker and thicker than normal, which can cause a blockage at the end of the small intestine. This in turn causes the large intestine to become narrowed because it is not being used, and the small intestine before the ileum becomes swollen.

In the majority of cases, the underlying cause of meconium ileus is cystic fibrosis. This is a rare disease that affects the lungs and digestive system, specifically the cells that produce mucus and sweat. In children with cystic fibrosis, meconium ileus can often be the first sign.

Meconium Ileus Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of meconium ileus include:

  • Not passing the first stool within 24 to 48 hours
  • Vomiting
  • Visible swelling in the abdominal region
  • Difficulty breathing

If there are further complications such as a perforated, twisted, or malformed intestine, symptoms can include visible redness, fever, and shock.

How to Diagnose Meconium Ileus

In some instances, doctors may identify meconium ileus before birth during a prenatal ultrasound. More often, it will be detected after birth with the following steps:

  • Discussion of symptoms
  • Physical examination, including looking for abnormal lumps or protrusions under the abdomen
  • Review of medical history and family history, particularly to look for a history of cystic fibrosis
  • Screening tests for cystic fibrosis and other conditions
  • Abdominal X-ray
  • Contrast enema

Meconium Ileus Treatment Options

For infants diagnosed with complex meconium ileus, doctors will order immediate surgery to treat a perforated or twisted intestine. With simple meconium ileus, the first treatment step will usually be an enema with special medication to help break down and pass the meconium. Doctors will usually use a special X-ray scope, called a fluoroscope, to guide the enema.

If the enema is not successful, surgery may be needed to physically remove the blockage through the intestine.

When your child’s meconium ileus is related to cystic fibrosis, your doctor can help you create a long-term treatment plan to manage this condition. Treatment options have improved considerably for this condition in recent years, allowing many children to have a positive long-term outlook.

Caring for a Child with Meconium Ileus

Babies recovering from meconium ileus can have considerable short-term and long-term needs. This is particularly true if cystic fibrosis is also present. Steps can include special nutrition, medications, physical therapy, follow-up appointments, and other needs.

To ensure the highest level of care and attention for their little one, busy families can turn to pediatric home health services. A caring and experienced pediatric home health professional can fill a wide range of needs for any family recovering from meconium ileus or managing cystic fibrosis, including nutritional support, administering medications, accompanying the baby to appointments and sessions, and respite care.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer one-on-one support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.