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How does the Hirschsprung disease affect infants?

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The first indication that an infant has Hirschsprung's disease is usually failure to have a bowel movement in the first few days after birth, says Mayo Clinic. Doctors are unsure what causes the disease, but some believe it is genetic. Symptoms include abdominal swelling, vomiting, gas, constipation or diarrhea. Treatment for the disease involves surgery to remove the damaged section of colon or bypass it. Children with the disease are at risk of developing enterocolitis, a life-threatening infection requiring hospitalization.

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Hirschsprung's disease occurs when the muscles of the colon do not function properly due to unformed nerve cells, explains Mayo Clinic. As the muscle movements of the colon are crucial to the process of moving food through the bowels, this leaves the infant unable to have bowel movements. In a child with enterocolitis, the stool backs up in the colon, expanding and compressing the blood vessels of the colon wall. The decreased blood flow can cause a breakdown of the colon's mucosal lining and make it vulnerable to infection. Treatment involves cleaning out the colon and administering antibiotics.

Risk factors for a child having the disease include being male, having a sibling who has it, and the presence of other inherited conditions, especially Down syndrome or heart problems. Approximately one-third of children with Hirschsprung's disease also have other abnormalities, according to Mayo Clinic.

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