What is a birth defect? A birth defect is a health condition or more of a physical problem that is already present in a baby after getting born. There are birth defects that may be just physical, while there are some that may also affect the infant's bodily function. A birth defect mostly happens when the baby is growing in the mother’s womb during pregnancy. Birth defects are mainly of two types, i.e, structural and functional birth defects. Structural birth defects include problems related to the structure of the body parts such as cleft lips or abnormal limbs. On the other hand, functional defects include the problems that involve how a body part functions such as blindness and deafness. Birth defects are also called as congenital abnormalities or congenital anomalies. A birth defect can be of physical malformations, which is basically an abnormal development of any organ of the body like heart defects, club foot, cleft-lip. It can also be chromosomal abnormalities like the down syndrome or other functional defects like congenital deafness or congenital blindness. Some birth defects may have a deep impact on the daily functions of a normal human living, whereas others can be a minor or mild defect which is not even visible externally.
Many babies are born with birth defects. They range from being minor to severe in different new borns. Birth defects can have an impact on the baby's appearance, function and even mental development. Usually, these birth defects develop within the first trimester, when the organs of the baby are forming. While some birth defects are harmless, some demand a long-term medical treatment. It has become important to find an appropriate treatment for birth defects. As per the latest newsletter of WHO, the most common, severe congenital anomalies are heart defects, neural tube defects and Down syndrome. To find out more, Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to By Dr. Beena Jeysingh, Senior Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Columbia Asia Hospital, Sarjapur Road, about the causes and treatment options for various birth effects.
Surgical treatment options for birth defects
The technology has developed and become advanced, which makes it an aid in health care as well. Now, various birth defects can also be diagnosed with accuracy even before birth. Complete treatment is possible by performing different paediatric surgeries for various birth defects in babies and also its effect can be reduced. Treatment at an early stage is possible for body's many functional abnormalities like congenital blood abnormalities (Thalassaemia, sickle cell disease) and congenital hypothyroidism (reduced functioning of thyroid). So for many of these physical birth defects, there are surgical treatment options available for new borns. As per Dr. Beena, the most common structural defects and their surgical treatments are mentioned below:
1. Heart defects
There are a lot of heart related defects that majorly affect the flow of blood through the heart and also have a negative impact on the heart's function and development. Depending on the cardiac abnormality, the surgery can differ from being minor to an open-heart surgery in various cases. The heart surgery is performed with the help of a heart-lung machine, which will be responsible for the functioning of the heart and lungs so that the surgeon can perform the surgery to treat the heart defect.
Also read: National Birth Defects Awareness Month: 10 Most Common Birth Defects
2. Spina bifida
In Spina bifida defect, a part of the baby's spinal cord is on the outside, like a bump. The spinal cord is exposed without any covering muscle or skin. To treat this abnormality, surgical intervention is important as it can also help in preventing further injury and infection due to the spinal cord. A neurosurgeon has to remove the the exposed part of the spinal cord in the spinal canal and close the abnormality with the help of muscle and skin.
3. Cleft lip or palate
In Cleft lip birth defect, the new born's lip or the upper part of the mouth has an opening or is split into two parts partially. So, a surgery is done to close the separation in the lip and or upper part of the mouth. This surgery helps in giving a more normal function and appearance of the upper lip to the infant.
4. Club foot
Club foot is the condition when the new born's foot is directed inwards instead of outwards. So, a surgical treatment is done for this congenital abnormality as well. Basically, surgeries are conducted to place the foot back in its normal position by releasing and lengthening the tight tendons.
Also read: Importance of prenatal care
Causes of major birth defects
In addition, we will now focus on the causes of major birth defects. Most of the babies are born healthy in the world. However, there are some infants that are born with different birth defects. In approximately 50 percent of the babies born with abnormalities, the actual cause is not known and the foetus develops them during the pregnancy period. Many factors like family history, age of the parents, care during pregnancy and others can be a risk for birth defects. According to Dr. Beena, here are the main causes of major birth defects:
1. Genetic factor
If someone in your family or especially the parents have or had a birth defect of any type, then also the upcoming baby would be at a higher risk of developing it. Hence, genetic factor also has a major influence over this condition. You have to get checked from a doctor to observe all the family history.
2. Socioeconomic and Demographic factors (maternal age)
Older maternal age can also cause neural tube defects, palate and cardiac defects. A woman's risk of having a baby with chromosomal abnormalities increases with her age. The commonest chromosomal birth defect is the down syndrome.
3. Certain medications
There are certain drugs that may also have an effect on your baby to have congenital abnormalities. Some medications don't suit a woman's body and react in a different way, leaving a negative impact on the baby.
4. Exposure to chemicals
If the mother is exposed to large amounts of chemicals for a persistent period of time, it can put the child at a huge risk of developing a birth defect or other health problems. If you breathe or swallow any of the harmful chemicals, they can enter your bloodstream and get into your baby through the placenta.
Also read: World Polio Day 2019: Polio Is Not A Birth Defect, Is Communicable
5. Infections during pregnancy
If you get prone or affected by any infections during the pregnancy period, then it also becomes a cause for birth defects. You have to take care of your diet and your health to stay safe from any type of infections. Other causes of congenital abnormalities are maternal nutritional status and a combination of all the above causes.
So, these were the causes and surgical treatment options for birth defects by Dr. Beena Jaysingh. Birth defects can have a deep impact on a child’s mind and his whole life, if ignored and left untreated. These surgical interventions and advancements in medical field give us the chance to treat these birth defects at a very early stage. Therefore, consult your paediatrician and take their advice on the proper medical treatment for birth defects. All the hospitals are safe to visit and all necessary precautions for patients’ safety are being taken with care. You should get checked regularly during the pregnancy period to be prepared for an early treatment.
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