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Gastroschisis is a congenital birth defect involving the intestines of a baby. When a baby is born which gastroschisis, the intestines will stick out of the body through a defect in the placenta.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 2,000 babies are born with gastroschisis each year in the United States.  Gastroschisis is a birth defect involving a hernia in the abdominal wall. With gastroschisis, a baby’s intestines stick outside of the body and it can involve other organs such as the liver and stomach.

Through recent studies, it has been determined gastroschisis is more common in babies born to younger mothers.

Other risk factors which are common in babies born with gastroschisis include: mothers used ibuprofen during pregnancy, consumed alcohol, smoked cigarettes and experienced a urinary tract infection just prior to becoming pregnant.

What causes gastroschisis?

Gastroschisis was the focus of a recent study hosted by the CDC and researchers report some important findings about the factors associated with a baby having an increased risk of the condition:

  • Alcohol and tobacco products: Females who drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes were at a higher than average risk of having a baby born with gastroschisis.
  • Maternal age: Teen mothers are more likely to have a baby with gastroschisis than older women, and white teens have a higher rate of incidence than African-American teenagers.

What are the symptoms of gastroschisis?

If a baby has gastroschisis, it is not unusual for a mother to notice any signs or symptoms while pregnant.  Mothers of babies with gastroschisis may have excess amniotic fluid around the baby, the condition is called polyhydramnios. Most commonly, a doctor will notice gastroschisis on an ultrasound image before the baby is born.

After a baby is born, it is possible to witness symptoms related to gastroschisis, particularly if it involves pinched, twisted, or damaged organs protruding through the hole.  A doctor will examine a baby after birth to see if any of these symptoms are present.  Approximately one in ten babies with gastroschisis also has intestinal atresia, which is a malformed intestine.

How is gastroschisis diagnosed?

In most cases, a doctor will witness gastroschisis during a fetal ultrasound before a baby is ever born. Another way of diagnosing the condition is through performing a blood test on the mother, to check for high levels of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), which is a sign of gastroschisis.

If a baby is diagnosed with gastroschisis before birth, a woman and her doctor can devise a treatment plan after the birth.  A doctor may speak with a family about genetic testing, such as an amniocentesis, before a baby is born or before a woman has children in the future.  An amniocentesis checks for various medical conditions or developmental issues a baby may have before birth. 

Most babies with gastroschisis have no other issues.

Once a baby is born, the doctor will see the gastroschisis during a physical examination and a baby may need further tests to determine the best course of treatment.

What kind of surgery is done for treating gastroschisis?

All babies born with gastroschisis will need surgery soon after being born in order to put their intestines back into the abdominal cavity and to fix the hole.  When a baby is born with gastroschisis, a surgeon will use one of several methods to fix the intestines.  Sometimes a baby can have the surgery right away, but other times it is best to wait.  The time a surgery will happen will depend on the condition of the baby and the surgeon and medical team will closely monitor the situation.

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