Birth defect

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A birth defect is a structural, functional, or metabolic abnormality present at birth that results in physical or mental disability or death. There are more than 4,000 known birth defects, which may be caused by genetic or environmental factors. In the US, About 150,000 babies are born each year with birth defects.

Some birth defects can be corrected by surgery after birth. Some examples are cleft palate, extra fingers or toes, webbed feet, club foot and 'hole in the heart'.

Birth defects may be caused by nutritional deficiencies of the mother and can be avoided by ensuring a good diet with supplemental vitamins and minerals and also by avoiding alcohol and tobacco. Folic acid is a common supplement.

There are potential birth defects that are genetic, and tests may be available to detect the condition in the womb or to test the parents and predict a potential risk if conception occurs. The parents can then assess the risk factors and decide to plan or avoid a pregnancy.

In the 1960s many birth defects were also caused by the usage of Thalidomide, a hypnotic drug administered to mothers to ease their pain during birth.The usage of this drug caused various defects, the majority of cases being deformities of the arms and legs.


McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.