What Are the Most Common Birth Defects?

Medically Reviewed on 6/13/2022

What are common birth defects?

A birth defect is a health condition that is present since birth.
A birth defect is a health condition that is present since birth.

A birth defect is a health condition that is present since birth. Birth defects may change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health. Below are the most common birth defects:

Congenital heart defects (CHD): This defect may affect different parts or functions of the heart. Defects may include holes in the wall of the heart, a heart that beats too quickly or too slowly, valve defects that prevent blood from flowing smoothly, or misplaced blood vessels that prevent the heart and circulatory system from functioning efficiently. Causes include genetic and environmental factors or sometimes side effects of certain drugs. Most heart defects can be corrected, or at least helped, by surgery, medicines, and devices such as pacemakers. There are prenatal tests that can detect many heart defects before birth. Medications and surgical interventions after birth have also improved the outlook for children with CHD significantly in the past 40 years.

Clubfoot: Clubfoot describes a range of foot and ankle abnormalities. The foot bones, ankle joint, and structures of the foot may be abnormal or tight, making it difficult to bring the foot into a normal position. Clubfoot is almost twice as likely to affect boys. Causes are yet to be established, but heredity and some environmental factors, such as smoking during pregnancy, are likely at the root of the defect. Without treatment, the poorly aligned foot and ankle can't move normally, resulting in an awkward gait and may even interfere with the growth of the entire leg.

Down syndrome: Down syndrome is a genetic disorder; it is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome. Symptoms include mental retardation and facial and health abnormalities such as impaired hearing, impaired vision, and heart defects. Mothers who are aged above 35 years are at a higher risk of having a baby with Down syndrome. Early intervention and special education may help babies with Down syndrome to grow up, attend school, and participate in a social life. Many patients live semi-independently in group homes, holding down jobs, and taking part in their communities.

Cerebral palsy: Congenital cerebral palsy is a condition with abnormal brain movement and posture. It is caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls muscle movement. Cerebral palsy is generally not diagnosed until the child has reached 2 or 3 years. Symptoms include mental retardation, learning disabilities, or problems with vision, hearing, or speech. While there is no cure for cerebral palsy, treatment options include physical therapy, speech therapy occupational therapy, drug therapies, and surgical procedures. Most children may significantly improve over time with proper treatment.

Spina bifida: Spina bifida is caused by neural tube defects. The neural tube is the part of the embryo that eventually develops into the brain and spinal cord. When something goes wrong in this process and the neural tube does not close properly, the spinal cord or vertebrae do not develop normally. Causes include genetic and environmental factors. A baby with the most severe form of spina bifida will usually require surgery within 48 hours of birth. Soon after surgery, physical therapy is initiated. Studies show that up to 70% of neural tube defects, including spina bifida, could be prevented if pregnant women consume adequate amounts of folic acid, especially in the earliest stages of pregnancy. Prenatal surgery to repair spina bifida birth defects is in the experimental phase.

Cleft lip: This defect might look alarming, but it can typically be corrected shortly after birth. Essentially, a cleft lip is when the baby is born with an opening at the lip, and the same thing can happen on the roof of the mouth; once corrected, the baby may lead a normal life.

Sickle cell disease or sickle cell anemia: This occurs when red blood cells do not carry enough oxygen throughout the body. This is often passed from generation to generation.

Fragile X syndrome: This is a chromosomal defect that is generally observed in male babies. Symptoms include a long face, large ears, flat feet, teeth clamped together, heart issues, or even slightly autistic symptoms.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS): It is a group of mental and physical birth defects that occur because of excessive consumption of alcohol by the mother during pregnancy. Children born with FAS are abnormally small at birth. They may have small eyes and an upturned nose. The heart may not have formed properly, and many children with this birth defect have a small or abnormally formed brain. Most have some degree of mental retardation. Children born with FAS may require psychological and behavioral counseling, special education to cope with their learning disabilities, and medical treatments throughout their lives.

Medically Reviewed on 6/13/2022
"Birth Defects." <http://www.aboutbirthdefects.org/types/>.