The number of babies in the United States born with the congenital defect known as gastroschisis has more than doubled over the past 18 years, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Infants suffering from gastroschisis are born with a hole in the wall of their stomach, leaving their internal organs such as liver and intestines to protrude from their abdomen.
Sufferers are often required to undergo immediate surgery to address the condition. CDC experts say babies that received surgery do well following the procedure.
Suzanne Gilboa, an epidemiologist and head of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD), said they are still unsure why the number of gastroschisis cases in the country is increasing.
Prevalence of Gastroschisis
In its report, the CDC said that gastroschisis is still considered a rare type of birth defect, despite the noticeable increase in the number of sufferers. In the U.S., an estimated 2,000 infants are born with the condition every year.
While the exact cause of gastroschisis remain a mystery, experts believe some factors such as alcohol use, smoking, illegal drug use and being underweight prior to becoming pregnant can increase the risk of developing the condition.
However, Gilboa said they do not know if these factors are what caused the spike in gastroschisis occurrence that they have observed.
The CDC examined data collected from different 14 states, which include Arizona, California, Iowa, Georgia, New York, Oklahoma and Texas. The figures comprise approximately one third of infants born in the U.S. from 1995 to 2012.
The condition was mostly seen among mothers who were younger than 20 years old. The biggest rise in gastroschisis cases mostly involved infants born to mothers who were 20 years old or younger and non-Hispanic black.
Dr. Coleen Boyle, director of the NCBDDD, said that it is crucial for public health research to find out why certain mothers are more susceptible to having babies with the condition.
Doctors can identify if an infant has gastroschisis by conducting an ultrasound of the mother's womb during pregnancy. After birth, the baby with the condition would have to undergo surgery immediately so that the organs can be put back into the abdomen and the hole in the abdominal wall can be repaired.
Neonatologist Dr. Leslie A Lusk of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) explained that there is a big discussion among doctors regarding the best way to carry out the surgery and how invasive the procedure should be. The main objective, however, is to put the abdominal organs back in the body.
Doctors say once the hole in the abdominal wall has been closed, the baby can get a chance to live a normal and healthy life, provided that the organs are not injured.
Dr. Lusk said gastroschisis is generally a non-fatal condition and that it can be properly addressed. However, patients can suffer lasting complications related to their bowel, which could require another surgery in the future.
Photo: Gabi Menashe | Flickr