Children's Hospital Colorado
Colorado Fetal Care Center

Colonic Atresia

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What is colonic atresia?

Colonic atresia is a congenital (present at birth) condition in which part of the colon (large intestine) is completely blocked or missing. The condition occurs when parts of a fetus’s large intestine don’t develop properly.

Colonic atresia can range from mild to severe depending on the type and location of the bowel obstruction. Some babies can have a large section missing from their colon, while others may have a small intestinal blockage.

During fetal development, a baby’s stomach contents flow freely through their intestines, which absorb nutrients that help the baby grow. With colonic atresia, the large intestine gets much bigger just before the bowel obstruction. The intestine can no longer absorb nutrients or pass anything through.

Colonic atresia is a type of intestinal atresia, which involves blocked or missing sections anywhere along the small intestine. In some cases, babies born with colonic atresia have other congenital conditions that affect the intestines, eyes, heart or bones.

Without treatment, colonic atresia can cause the intestine to stretch so much that it tears. Other complications include dehydration and infection.

What causes colonic atresia?

Colonic atresia occurs when blood flow to the large intestine is compromised while the fetus is developing. The problem may be:

  • Blood vessels that supply the large intestine stop developing or don’t develop.
  • A twist or compressed area in the large intestine cuts off the blood supply.

Who gets colonic atresia?

Colonic atresia develops in males and females equally, occurring in one in 20,000 births.

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