Birth defects are abnormalities present at birth that are visible or detectable in the first week of life. Some, such as cleft, clubfoot, spina bifida, and extra fingers or toes, are obvious; but others, such as heart problems, deafness, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, are less easy to detect. These conditions may become apparent only through diagnostic tests such as CAT scans, X-rays, blood tests, or hearing tests.
What causes birth defects?
Some birth defects are inherited and some are then result of damage sustained during birth. Others can be attributed to the effects of environmental factors or a lack of adequate nutrition during pregnancy, particularly during the first three months. The cause of about 70% of birth defects is unknown, however.
Certain environmental factors increase the risk that a pregnant woman will have a child with a birth defect. These include exposure to radiation, an illness such as rubella during pregnancy, certain drugs, alcohol, smoking, and certain infections.
Anything that causes or increases the risk of a birth defect is called a teratogen. Pregnant women should avoid smoking and drinking and should consult a physical before taking any drugs. X-rays should also be avoided, but if they are absolutely necessary, the radiologist should be informed so that every care is taken to protect the fetus. If possible, women who have not had rubella (German measles) should be vaccinated against the disease before trying to conceive.
Pregnant women should eat a nutritious diet that includes the B vitamin folic acid, known to be essential for the healthy development of the fetus. A lack of folic acid increases the risk that the fetus will develop spina bifida or a similar defect. To avoid this danger woman should take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily while trying to conceive, and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Genetic birth defects
The genes that help determine a person’s physical makeup are contained within 23 pairs of chromosomes. Some birth defects occur when a fetus inherits certain genes from one or both parents. If a woman carries the gene for hemophilia, for example, she has a 1-in-2 chance of passing it on to her children. A daughter who inherits the gene will simply be a symptomless carrier, but any son who inherits it will develop the disease.
Defects may also occur if a fetus has missing or extra chromosomes, or chromosomal mutations. The older a woman is when she becomes pregnant, the greater the chance that an abnormality will occur. Symptoms caused by chromosomal abnormalities include fragile-X syndrome, which can cause mental retardation; and Down syndrome, which causes delayed physical and mental development and characteristic physical appearance. (Also, about one third of children with Down syndrome suffer from heart defects). Fortunately, many chromosomal abnormalities can be detected early in pregnancy.
Common birth defects
Heart defects account for between one third and one fourth of all birth abnormalities. About 1-in every 120 babies will be born with some sort of abnormal formation of the walls, blood vessels, or valves of the heart. These defects may initially be discovered by a doctor hearing an abnormal sound through a stethoscope.
Ultrasound scanning, electrocardiography, and chest x rays are then used to determine exactly where the problem lies. Many heart defects can be repaired surgically, but some are too severe to be correctedâ€”for example, if part of the heart is underdeveloped or absent.
Defects of the brain and spine are called neural tube defects and occur in about 1 in 1,000 pregnancies. These defects are often severe, causing fetal and infant deaths. Fetuses with conditions such as microcephaly (a smaller than average brain circumference), anencephaly (small or missing brain hemispheres), or hydraencephaly (water on the brain), cannot be put right through surgery; and if the babies survive, they are usually retarded.
However, surgery can improve other brain defects, including hydrocephalus and encephalocele, which causes the brain to bulge out of the skull.
Spinal defects cause abnormal curvatures of the neck and spine and can be treated with braces or surgery. The most common defects of the spinal cord are spinal bifida, which can lead to bladder, kidney abnormalities and other physical deformities.
The body systems most frequently affected by birth defects are the kidneys and the urinary tract. Kidneys may be missing or in the wrong position or place, or they may contain abnormal tissue. The ureter, which connects the kidneys to the bladder, may be too narrow, too wide, or in the wrong place.
Likewise, the bladder may be abnormally shaped or the outlet may be too narrow. Any defect that prevents urine from flowing can cause infection, kidney stones, or kidney failure. Some of these conditions can be corrected surgically; others, such as polycystic kidneys, which can cause kidney failure, can be treated only by dialysis or kidney transplant. Defects of the urethraâ€”such as a urethral that is open rather than enclosed, a condition known as epispadiasâ€”can be corrected by surgery.
Some children are born with ambiguous genitals that are not obviously male or female. Defects may also occur along the length of the gastrointestinal tract, often causing an obstruction, but these defects can usually be corrected surgically.
Defects of the bone and muscles most commonly affect the skull, face, spine, hips, legs, and feet. The most common defects of the face are cleft lip and cleft palate. These affect about 1 in 1,000 babies but can usually be corrected surgically. Defects of the lower limbs include hip or knee dislocation and clubfoot, which can be improved using splints, orthopedic surgery, and physical therapy.
Eye defects include glaucomaâ€”although this is relatively rare at birthâ€”which raises pressure in the eyeballs and causes them to enlarge, and congenital cataracts. Glaucoma surgery must be performed promptly after birth to prevent blindness. Congenital cataracts are caused by chromosomal abnormalities or exposure to rubella and should be removed as quickly as possible so that the infant can develop sight.
One way of preventing birth defects is to test people with known hereditary problems to see if they carry the genes for a particular disease. They can then talk to a genetic counselor to determine what the chances are of a child’s inheriting the defect before deciding if they want to risk a pregnancy.
If a woman is already pregnant, chronic villus sampling or amniocentesis can detect a wide range of genetic defects, giving the parents vital information that will help them decide whether or not to continue the pregnancy.
The volume of amniotic fluid, which surrounds the fetus in the womb, is another important indicator of birth defects. For instance, a lack of amniotic fluid may indicate a kidney problem that is slowing down the production of urine, causing the limbs and lungs of the fetus to develop abnormally. Too much amniotic fluid, on the other hand, may suggest that the fetus has a severe brain disorder. Amniocentesis and ultrasound examinations can also help detect brain and spinal cord defects.
Homeopathic treatment of birth defects – Homeopathy is one of the most popular holistic systems of medicine. The selection of remedy is based upon the theory of individualization and symptoms similarity by using holistic approach. This is the only way through which a state of complete health can be regained by removing all the sign and symptoms from which the patient is suffering. The aim of homeopathy is not only to treat birth defects but to address its underlying cause and individual susceptibility. As far as therapeutic medication is concerned, several remedies are available to cure birth defects that can be selected on the basis of cause, sensations and modalities of the complaints. For individualized remedy selection and treatment, the patient should consult a qualified homeopathic doctor in person. There are following remedies which are helpful in the treatment of birth defects:
Calcaria Carb, Sulphur, Natrum Carb, Natrum Mur, kali Brom, Stramonium, Cadmium, Cicuta Virosa and many other medicines.
(David B. Jacoby, R. M. Youngson; Encyclopedia of Family Health; 2004; 206-07)