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Overview of Digestive Tract Birth Defects

By

William J. Cochran

, MD, Geisinger Clinic

Last full review/revision Apr 2021| Content last modified Apr 2021
Click here for the Professional Version
  • The digestive organs may be incompletely developed or abnormally positioned, causing blockages, or the muscles or nerves of the digestive tract may be defective.

  • Symptoms depend on the location of the defect but may include crampy abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, and vomiting.

  • The diagnosis usually is based on imaging tests and other tests.

  • Surgery usually is required.

A birth defect Overview of Birth Defects Birth defects, also called congenital anomalies, are physical abnormalities that occur before a baby is born. They are usually obvious within the first year of life. The cause of many birth... read more can occur anywhere along the length of the digestive tract—in the esophagus Throat and Esophagus The throat (pharynx—see also Throat) lies behind and below the mouth. When food and fluids leave the mouth, they pass through the throat. Swallowing of food and fluids begins voluntarily and... read more , stomach Stomach The stomach is a large, bean-shaped, hollow muscular organ consisting of three regions: Cardia Body (fundus) Antrum (See also Overview of the Digestive System.) read more , small intestine Small Intestine The duodenum is the first segment of the small intestine, and the stomach releases food into it. Food enters the duodenum through the pyloric sphincter in amounts that the small intestine can... read more , large intestine Large Intestine The large intestine consists of the Cecum and ascending (right) colon Transverse colon Descending (left) colon Sigmoid colon (which is connected to the rectum) read more , rectum Rectum and Anus The rectum is a chamber that begins at the end of the large intestine, immediately following the sigmoid colon, and ends at the anus (see also Overview of the Anus and Rectum). Ordinarily, the... read more , or anus Rectum and Anus The rectum is a chamber that begins at the end of the large intestine, immediately following the sigmoid colon, and ends at the anus (see also Overview of the Anus and Rectum). Ordinarily, the... read more . Such birth defects include the following:

Biliary atresia is a birth defect involving the bile ducts Gallbladder and Biliary Tract The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped, muscular storage sac that holds bile and is interconnected to the liver by ducts known as the biliary tract. (See also Overview of the Liver and Gallbladder... read more Gallbladder and Biliary Tract . Although the bile ducts are located outside the digestive tract, they help with digestion and are thus mentioned here.

In many cases, an organ is not fully developed or is abnormally positioned, which often causes narrowing or blockage (obstruction). Blockages can be present almost anywhere in the digestive tract, including in the esophagus, intestines, rectum, or anus. Sometimes a segment of the digestive tract does not form or develop normally or forms and then is destroyed by a problem that occurs in the womb before birth. The internal or external muscles surrounding the abdominal cavity may weaken or develop holes, as is the case with abdominal wall defects and diaphragmatic hernia. The nerves to the intestines may also fail to develop, as is the case with Hirschsprung disease.

Symptoms of Digestive Tract Birth Defects

Symptoms depend on what the birth defect is and where it is located. Infants may have crampy abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, and/or vomiting. Problems with feeding can occur and infants may fail to gain weight normally. Some infants develop a yellowish discoloration of the skin called jaundice Jaundice in the Newborn Jaundice is a yellow color to the skin and/or eyes caused by an increase in bilirubin in the bloodstream. Bilirubin is a yellow substance formed when hemoglobin (the part of red blood cells... read more Jaundice in the Newborn .

Diagnosis of Digestive Tract Birth Defects

  • Imaging tests (x-rays and ultrasonography)

Other testing may include blood tests and biopsies. During a biopsy, a piece of tissue is removed for examination under a microscope.

Other tests, such as genetic testing, may be done depending on the test results and symptoms.

Treatment of Digestive Tract Birth Defects

  • Surgery

Most digestive tract defects require surgery. Typically, blockages are surgically opened. Weakenings or holes in the muscles surrounding the abdominal cavity are sewn shut.

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Preventive Health Care Visits in Infants
Frequent doctor visits are recommended for all infants younger than 1 year of age. These visits, also called well-child visits, make it possible to check development, look for health problems, provide age-appropriate vaccinations, and educate parents. Which of the following is a condition that might affect some infants born very prematurely, with less than 32 weeks of development in the uterus?
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