Abdominal Wall Abnormalities

Also known as: abdominal wall defect, omphalocele, gastroschisis

What are abdominal wall abnormalities?

When an infant has a birth defect that involves an opening in the abdomen, this is known as an abdominal wall abnormality or abdominal wall defect. Often, certain organs (stomach, intestines, liver or other organs) can protrude through this unusual opening, which can lead to major complications immediately after birth.

There are two main types of abdominal wall defects; omphalocele and gastroschisis. In omphaloceles, a membrane usually covers the intestines, protecting it from the amniotic fluid in which the baby floats in the uterus. In gastroschisis, there is no membrane, and the bowel can be scarred by the amniotic fluid. Many times, these defects are found during the mother’s pregnancy on her ultrasound screening exams.

What causes abdominal wall abnormalities?

Most abdominal wall abnormalities are sporadic, occurring occasionally without a family history or genetic abnormality. Some cases, however, particularly with omphaloceles, abdominal wall abnormalities are often related to genetic factors, such as extra chromosomes, and there may be other defects, such as in the heart.

What are the symptoms of abdominal wall abnormalities?

Abdominal wall openings can usually be detected by ultrasound examination before birth. Most mothers do not have any noticeable symptoms.  Even if not seen on ultrasounds of the mother, these defects are obvious after birth. Babies with abdominal wall abnormalities may have low birth weight, congenital heart defects, problems with digestion and breathing difficulties.

What are abdominal wall abnormalities care options?

Most abdominal wall abnormalities can be repaired surgically early in life. The care may involve immediate abdominal wall closure. If many organs are out and the abdominal cavity is small, the bowels may be put in a silo and gently reduced (squeezed into) the cavity over several days. Occasionally, if there are other major problems with the baby, omphaloceles may be treated by coating with medication, reserving surgery for later in life. Once the repair is made successfully, these children usually go on to live healthy lives if there are no other serious congenital abnormalities present.

Reviewed by: Cathy Anne Burnweit, MD

This page was last updated on: August 24, 2020 11:01 AM

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