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Encyclopedia > Congenital

A congenital disorder is a medical condition or defect that is present at or before birth (for example, congenital heart disease). These conditions can be a result of heredity or environmental factors - meaning a congenital condition could be acquired during the fetal stage of development, or as a result of the genetic make-up of the parents (or both).

A birth defect is a physical or mental abnormality present at the time a child is born.

Birth defects range from minimal, such as birthmarks, and slightly mobility-impairing, such as amelia of the legs, to very serious, such as cerebral palsy, and incompatible with life, such as anencephaly.

The majority of malformations are from unknown or multifactorial causes. About 20% of birth defects result from genetic abnormalities, and another 5% because of chromosomal problems. Others can arise from chance problems in fetal development (teratogenesis), which are sometimes caused by prenatal vitamin deficiencies or exposure to mercury and other harmful substances. Infection and disease in the mother can also cause birth defects.

About 2-3% of babies are born with congenital defects. The incidence is highest in the brain (10 per 1000 live births), heart (8 per 1000), kidneys (4 per 1000) and limbs (2 per 1000). All other defects have a combined incidence of 6 per 1000 live births.


Risk of birth defects throughout gestation

The greatest risk of a malformation occurring is between the third and eighth week of gestation. Before this time, any damage to the embryo is likely to result in fatality and the baby will not be born. After eight weeks, the fetus and its organs are more developed, and is less sensitive to teratogenic incidents.

The type of birth defect is also related to the time of exposure to a teratogen. For instance the heart is susceptible from three to eight weeks, but the ear is susceptible from a slightly later time to about twelve weeks.

Infection in the mother early in the third week may damage the heart. An infection in the eleventh week is less likely to damage the heart, but the baby may be born deaf.


  • The National Library of Medicine or MEDLINE/PubMed MeSH (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=mesh&list_uids=81000151&dopt=Full) (medical subject heading) term

List of congenital disorders

Some other birth defects:

See also

  Results from FactBites:
Congenital Malformations Registry - 1995 Annual Report (2242 words)
Congenital hip dislocation A congenital defect in which the head of the femur does not articulate with the acetabulum of the pelvis because of an abnormal shallowness of the acetabulum.
Hypospadias A congenital defect in which the urinary meatus (urinary outlet) is on the underside of the penis or on the perineum (area between the genitals and the anus).
Transposition of the great vessels A congenital malformation in which the aorta arises from the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery from the left ventricle (opposite of normal), so that the venous return from the peripheral circulation is recirculated without being oxygenated in the lungs.
Congenital Heart Defects (1891 words)
Congenital heart defects are abnormalities in the heart's structure that are present at birth.
Congenital heart defects happen because of incomplete or abnormal development of the fetus' heart during the very early weeks of pregnancy.
Because congenital defects often compromise the heart's ability to pump blood and to deliver oxygen to the tissues of the body, they often produce telltale signs in your child.
  More results at FactBites »



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