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A to Z: Congenital Anomaly

May also be called: Birth Defect, Congenital Abnormality, Congenital Deformity, Congenital Disorder, Congenital Defect

A congenital anomaly (con-GEN-ih-tul uh-NAW-muh-lee) is a change in the normal size, shape, or functioning of a body part caused by a condition that a baby is born with.

More to Know

In medical terms, an anomaly is any sort of deformity or distortion that makes a part of the body function incorrectly or be a different size or shape than it would be normally. Anomalies can be:

  • congenital: present at birth
  • developmental: appearing later in childhood
  • acquired: caused by injuries or illnesses that were not present at birth

Common congenital anomalies include cleft lips and palates, clubfeet, spina bifida, and spinal deformities like scoliosis, kyphosis, and hyperlordosis.

Congenital anomalies can range from mild to severe. Mild anomalies might not be visible or cause any symptoms. In severe cases, anomalies can be more obvious. They also may cause pain, interfere with the movement and functioning of affected body parts, and negatively affect self-image.

Most congenital anomalies are caused by abnormal genetic coding, but some can be due to infections or environmental factors — such as alcohol abuse — that affect the mother and fetus during pregnancy. Treatment depends on the specific anomaly and often includes surgery or the use of corrective devices like back braces and leg casts.

Keep in Mind

Many congenital anomalies can't be seen, won't cause any problems, and will never need treatment. Others respond very well to treatment, especially if it begins as soon as a doctor thinks a baby is ready for it. Cleft lips and palates, for example, can be corrected through surgery; and spinal deformities and clubfeet often can be successfully realigned through bracing and casting.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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