What Causes Birth Defects?

Birth defects are usually caused by genetics and it can also be caused by pregnant mother ingesting substances such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco and certain medication. The fetus is joined to the placenta by umbilical cord and if pregnant mother ingest any of these substances, it can cross the placenta and damage the fetus.

Some of the problems associated with birth defects may include low birth weight, brain damage, nerve damage, heart defects, respiratory defects, spinal cord defects, lung disorder, and abnormal growth patterns.

Pregnant mother who smoked frequently have high risk of miscarriage and risk pregnancy complication that can result in fetus death. Children of smoking mother often weight less, have higher chance of developing cleft lip, suffered from reading disorder and likely to have more respiratory diseases.

Pregnant mother who consumed alcohol can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Alcohol can caused many problems to the fetus and these may include intrauterine death, spontaneous abortion, heart defects, premature birth, damage to the brain and nervous system, and physical malformations of the fetus. Baby with FAS may be born addicted to alcohol and experienced alcohol withdrawal for several days after birth. Children with FAS are small in size and suffer from behavior problems due to delayed in mental development.

Pregnant mother who use illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, morphine or opium can caused many problems to the fetus such as premature birth, small in size, and low birth weight. After birth the baby may experienced withdrawal from drug and often required to be hospitalized with intensive care. The children may also suffer from permanent damage to sensory and cognitive abilities that continue after their childhood.

Birth defects are also caused by prescribed medication taken by mother during pregnancy. A sedative drug known as thalidomide taken by pregnant mother can cause severe deformities to the fetus and drug known as diethylstilbestrol (DES) taken by pregnant mother can cause some grown children to develop genital tract abnormalities and cancer. Pregnant mother who consumed more than one cup of coffee daily can also result in low birth weight for the infant.

There are two types of test used to detect birth defects such as amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS).

Amniocentesis is a test performed during 14 to 16 weeks of pregnancy that involves inserting a needle into the woman’s abdomen with ultrasound guidance and small amount of amniotic fluid is drawn from the uterine cavity. The fluid is tested for 2 to 3 weeks to determine variety of potential defects.

Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is a test performed during 10 weeks of pregnancy that involves inserting a thin catheter through the abdomen or vagina with ultrasound guidance and small amount of chorionic villus is removed from the uterus for analysis.

Early detection of fetal abnormalities can benefits parents with chromosomal defect or those who have high risk of disorder associated with chromosomal abnormalities. Early detection of untreatable abnormalities allows a mother to terminate the pregnancy.

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