Portal venous air: The poor prognosis persists

Kimberly A. Molik, Karen W. West, Frederick J. Rescorla, L. R. Scherer, Scott A. Engum, Jay L. Grosfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

43 Scopus citations


Background/Purpose: The prognostic importance of portal vein air (PVA) in babies with necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) has been controversial. This study compares the outcome in babies with NEC and PVA treated surgically versus those with medical management. Methods: Forty neonates in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU; 1995 through 1999) had (PVA) during their hospitalization. Babies were analyzed for gestational age (GA), birth weight (BW), and survival after operative versus medical management. Results: The average GA was 26 weeks, average BW was 1,173 g. Twenty-three patients (57.5%) tolerated full feedings and 8 (20%) partial feedings at diagnosis. All 40 babies required intubation at birth with 23 (57.5%) requiring reintubation with onset of PVA. In all cases, PVA was present within 24 hours of onset of abdominal distension, feeding intolerance, or heme-positive stools. Two cases of PVA "resolved" only to recur later in the patients' courses. Thirty-two patients (80%) manifested pneumatosis intestinalis on abdominal radiographs, and 8 (20%) had perforations. Acidosis was present in 25 (63%) patients, and vasopressor support (dopamine) was required in 15 (38%), with 2 patients requiring support only preoperatively. Initial management consisted of bowel rest, fluid resuscitation, orogastric decompression, and broad-spectrum antibiotics. Operation was performed in 31 (78%). Seventeen underwent resection with ostomy formation with 6 deaths and 11 survivors. Four underwent resection using the clip and drop back method, with one death and 3 requiring an ostomy at second look laparotomy. Ten had NEC totalis and closure of the abdomen only. Overall operative mortality rate was 17 of 31 (54%). Nine seemingly stable patients were treated nonoperatively. Six had progressed disease and died before salvage laparotomy could be performed, whereas 3 (33%) survived without further therapy. Conclusions: PVA has been a relative indication for operation. This view has been challenged by the survival of some patients without laparotomy. Although nonoperative therapy seems appealing in hemodynamically stable patients without acidosis, our data confirm the poor prognosis of infants with PVA and NEC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1143-1145
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of Pediatric Surgery
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001


  • Intestinal ischemia
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis
  • Portal venous air
  • Prematurity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery

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    Molik, K. A., West, K. W., Rescorla, F. J., Scherer, L. R., Engum, S. A., & Grosfeld, J. L. (2001). Portal venous air: The poor prognosis persists. Journal of Pediatric Surgery, 36(8), 1143-1145. https://doi.org/10.1053/jpsu.2001.25732