Jejunal Atresia: Understanding the Condition and its Management

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Jejunal Atresia: A Comprehensive Guide to Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment


Jejunal atresia is a rare but serious birth defect that affects the small intestine. It occurs when a portion of the small intestine fails to develop properly during pregnancy, resulting in a blockage or narrowing of the intestinal lumen. This blockage prevents the passage of food, fluids, and bile, leading to life-threatening complications if left untreated. Understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for jejunal atresia is crucial for optimal patient care.


The exact cause of jejunal atresia is unknown, but it is believed to be a multifactorial condition involving genetic and environmental factors. Some risk factors that have been associated with jejunal atresia include:

  • Maternal diabetes: Mothers with uncontrolled blood sugar levels during pregnancy have an increased risk of having a baby with jejunal atresia.
  • Fetal chromosomal abnormalities: Certain chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome and trisomy 18, are associated with an increased risk of jejunal atresia.
  • Amniotic band syndrome: This condition occurs when fibrous bands form in the amniotic fluid and can entangle the developing fetus, leading to various birth defects, including jejunal atresia.
  • Environmental exposures: Exposure to certain toxins or medications during pregnancy may increase the risk of jejunal atresia.


Newborns with jejunal atresia typically present with the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal distension: The abdomen appears swollen and distended due to the accumulation of fluid and gas in the intestines.
  • Vomiting: Infants may vomit frequently, often projectile vomiting of bile-stained material.
  • Failure to pass meconium: Meconium, the first stool produced by newborns, is typically passed within the first 24-48 hours of life. Infants with jejunal atresia may fail to pass meconium or may pass only small amounts.
  • Jaundice: This condition causes yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes due to the buildup of bilirubin, a yellow pigment produced by the breakdown of red blood cells.
  • Constipation: The blockage in the small intestine prevents the passage of stool, leading to constipation.
  • Electrolyte imbalances: Persistent vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which can result in seizures, coma, and even death.


Diagnosing jejunal atresia involves a combination of physical examination, medical history, and imaging studies:

  • Physical examination: The healthcare provider will examine the infant for abdominal distension, signs of dehydration, and other physical findings suggestive of jejunal atresia.
  • Medical history: The healthcare provider will inquire about the mother’s health during pregnancy, including any known risk factors.
  • Imaging studies: X-rays or ultrasound examinations can help visualize the presence and location of the intestinal blockage.


Treatment for jejunal atresia typically requires surgical intervention:

  • Exploratory laparotomy: This surgery involves making an incision in the abdomen to explore the intestines and identify the site of the blockage.
  • Surgical repair: The goal of surgery is to remove the atretic segment of the bowel and reconnect the healthy ends of the intestine. In some cases, a temporary stoma (an opening in the abdomen to allow for the passage of waste) may be created to facilitate healing and reduce the risk of complications.
  • Supportive care: After surgery, infants with jejunal atresia require intensive supportive care, including:
    • Intravenous fluids and electrolytes to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
    • Total parenteral nutrition (TPN) to provide essential nutrients directly into the bloodstream, bypassing the digestive tract.
    • Respiratory support if needed.


The prognosis for infants with jejunal atresia depends on several factors, including the severity of the atresia, the presence of associated anomalies, and the timing of surgical intervention. With early diagnosis and prompt surgical treatment, most infants with jejunal atresia have good long-term outcomes. However, some infants may experience complications, such as:

  • Short bowel syndrome: This condition occurs when a significant portion of the small intestine is removed, leading to malabsorption and malnutrition.
  • Intestinal strictures: Scarring from the surgical repair can lead to narrowing of the intestine, causing recurrent obstructions.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Infants with jejunal atresia may have difficulty absorbing essential nutrients, requiring lifelong nutritional support.
  • Liver disease: Prolonged jaundice can lead to liver damage and cirrhosis.


Jejunal atresia is a serious but treatable birth defect that requires prompt medical attention. Early diagnosis and surgical intervention are crucial for improving the prognosis and ensuring the best possible outcome for affected infants. Healthcare providers should be aware of the risk factors and symptoms associated with jejunal atresia and have a high index of suspicion for this condition in newborns presenting with abdominal distension, vomiting, and failure to pass meconium. With advances in surgical techniques and intensive supportive care, most infants with jejunal atresia can lead fulfilling and healthy lives.

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