Birth defects, also known congenital abnormalities, are caused by numerous factors and are usually quite varied. Unfortunately, they often cannot be treated, so their intrauterine detection remains the most efficient intervention method. Let`s find out what are the most common birth defects.
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What Is a Congenital Defect?
A birth defect is a serious health issue, which is present when a woman gives birth, but which can only be noticed after the baby grows. Congenital abnormalities can affect any part of the body, including major organs such as heart, brain or lungs; it can also affect the child`s appearance, a function of the body or both.
Congenital malformations are common illnesses with various degrees of severity, from minor anatomical abnormalities to complete genetic disorders, like congenital heart diseases, neural tube defects, and Down syndrome, which are actually the most severe birth defects. According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention from the United States, 1 in 33 babies are born every year with a congenital malformation. Worldwide, around 276.000 babies lose their life every year during the first 4 weeks of life due to congenital abnormalities, informs the World health Organization.
External Factors that Cause Congenital Abnormalities
There are the so called mutagenic factors, meaning those environmental factors that can generate changes to the mother`s DNA long before she gets pregnant, but with effects on the fetus even from conception, depending on the level of exposure. Also, certain substances or diseases contacted by the mother during pregnancy can also influence congenital malformations. Such cases occur with a frequency of 1 in 32.000 to 100.000 births. Some diseases can be prevented, if the future mother keeps a few things into consideration and avoids others, but there are also situations in which the pregnant woman cannot do anything. Here are the external factors that can influence the occurrence of congenital malformations.
- The importance of folic acid shouldn`t be neglected. This is of major importance of the neurological development of the baby, and is also the reason for which doctors recommend folic acid supplements at least 3 months before conception. Spina bifida is one of the birth defects generated by the lack of folic acid in the mother`s body.
- Quitting smoking, or at least reducing the number of cigarettes, is also of great importance. The presence of nicotine in the mother`s body can lead to serious complications and serious health problems for the fetus, such as placenta praevia, placental detachment, heart defects, or even slowing or stopping the baby`s development.
- The consumption of alcohol, even in small quantities, has negative effects on the physical and brain development of the baby.
- Drug consumption (legal or illegal) without the recommendation of radiation and supervision of the doctor.
- The mother`s exposure to a toxic environment – chemical, bacterial or radiation level, even years before conception.
- The mother`s diseases during pregnancy, such as diabetes, rubella, toxoplasmosis, genital herpes, varicella or parvovirus.
- If there`s a medical history with risk in one of the parents or relatives (parents, siblings, other children), there`s a possibility of the newborn being diagnosed with a congenital malady.
- The maternal age can be a risk factor for the occurrence of fetal genetic diseases.
What Are the Most Common Birth Defects?
Presently, there are around 4.000 birth defects identified, many not showing obvious signs because they affect the internal organs. Thus, prevention is essential and requires attention both before and after pregnancy, with regard to existing diseases and necessary vaccinations, but also supplements (folic acid) and involves avoiding smoking (both active and passive), drugs/medications, but also a healthy diet and rest.
Cheiloschizis/Labioschizis & Palatoschisis
They occur when the tissues of the lips or the ones in the oral cavity don`t develop normally during fetal evolution. Labioschizis is the opening between the upper lip and the nose. Palatoschisis is the split between the palate and the nasal cavity. These 2 types of congenital abnormalities can be surgically repaired after childbirth. – Click this link!
Fetal Alcoholism Syndrome
This syndrome is characterized by growth deficiencies by mental retardation, abnormal facial features, but also central nervous system issues. This syndrome cannot be healed or treated, but can be prevented by avoiding alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Cerebral palsy isn`t diagnosed for a few weeks or months after birth, depending on the severity of the medical condition. The term refers to a set of manifestations which affects the coordination of movements and cause brain damage. People with cerebral palsy have difficulties in controlling their muscles; the gravity of this symptom varies from one case to another. Around 70% of people with cerebral palsy have other handicaps, often mental retardation. Some children may have locomotor difficulties, other ones might not be able to swallow, while others cannot articulate words. – Find out more!
In most cases, the causes of cerebral palsy aren`t known. Among the known ones are:
- Rubella, triggered during pregnancy.
- Rh incompatibility (between the mother and child).
- Brain damage in the last trimester of pregnancy or around the birth date.
Cerebral palsy might have genetic causes, but also various brain damages or meningitis, manifested after birth. Therapies for improving motor skills, surgery or other assisted technologies might help improve mobility and control of the muscles.
Logopedics and occupational therapy are helpful in recovery.
Neural Tube Defects
These occur during the first month of pregnancy when the basic structure that develops the brain and spine forms. Normally, this structure implies the complete closure of the embryonic neural tube which is around 29 days after conception. If the tube doesn`t close completely, the child suffers of neural tube defects. Children with these abnormalities don`t survive a lot of time after birth.
Congenital Hip Dislocation
Congenital hip dislocation occurs when the upper thigh doesn’t remain fixed inside the iliac bone or when the coxal portion is deep and the hip can easily dislocate, the joint becoming unstable. This might occur in the case of one or both of the balances. The condition occurs in 1 – 2 newborns out of 1.000, more often in girls than boys. Generally, the disease is detected at birth and treated immediately by applying a flexible bandage to the affected area for a period of 6 – 9 months. If not diagnosed on time, the treatment will performed by surgery.
Club foot is the term used for describing a group of structural defects in the leg and ankle. Bones, muscles, joints and blood vessels are inappropriately formed. Patients with this medical condition face locomotory issues because the tip of the foot is pointing downwards. Club foot, also known as clubfoot, occurs mostly among boys and until now there were no established causes.
Treatment can be applied after birth and works in 95% of cases without involving surgery. Its failure implies the need for surgery along with other types of therapy.
Congenital hypothyroidism occurs in 1 out of 3.000 – 4.000 births. The child`s thyroid gland is absent or insufficiently developed, which implies the inability to produce a normal amount of thyroid hormone – support the normal development of the body, especially the brain. If the disease isn`t detected and treated in the first few weeks of life, it can induce physical retardation and mental retardation permanently.
How Early Can You Detect a Birth Defect?
During the first trimester of pregnancy, any woman who is expecting a baby makes a few tests between the weeks 11 and 13. These tests are performed to detect any possible birth defects related to chromosomal disorders, like Down syndrome, or various heart disorders. The tests include an ultrasound and a blood test from the mother.