A birth defect involving the stomach called gastroschisis has been increasing among U.S. infants for decades and more than doubled over 18 years, federal health officials report.
Babies with gastroschisis have a hole in the stomach wall at birth through which the intestines, and sometimes other organs such as the liver, protrude. The condition requires immediate surgery. Most babies do well after the operation, experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
“We don’t know why gastroschisis is increasing,” said Suzanne Gilboa, team leader and an epidemiologist in the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
Despite the increase, the disorder is still rare. About 2,000 babies in the United States are born each year with gastroschisis, the CDC said.
What causes the condition isn’t known, Gilboa said. However, some possible risk factors have been identified. These include smoking, illegal drug use, alcohol use, and being underweight before getting pregnant. “But we don’t know if these are the explanation for what we are seeing,” Gilboa said.
The report was published in the Jan. 22 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“The concerning part of this is the inexorable rise in gastroschisis going back to the 1970s,” said Dr. Edward McCabe, senior vice president and chief medical officer at the March of Dimes.
More research is needed, he said. “When you see something rising as fast as this is in all population groups, and in all ages, it tells you something serious is going on. We need to try and figure out what it is so we can prevent the rise,” McCabe said.
Surgery returns the protruding organs into the baby’s body and seals the stomach wall. Even after surgery, however, babies can have problems eating or digesting food. In some cases, the condition can be life-threatening, Gilboa said.
Gastroschisis is a surgical emergency, McCabe said. “Babies still die from infection after surgery,” he added.
For the study, CDC researchers collected data from 14 states. They compared the prevalence of gastroschisis among babies born to mothers of different ages from 1995 to 2005 with those born between 2006 and 2012.
Gastroschisis was most common among mothers younger than 20 and in babies born to young black women, the report found. From 1995 to 2012, a 263 percent increase in gastroschisis occurred among babies born to black mothers 20 or younger, the research showed.
The increase in gastroschisis among teen mothers is not due to an increase in the number of births in teen mothers. Teen births actually declined over the same period, the report said. Between 1995 and 2012, the incidence of gastroschisis increased among mothers of all ages and racial and ethnic groups.
Gilboa said more research is needed “to figure out why this increase is happening. Planning and preparing for pregnancy is really important — things like having a healthy diet and weight, and not smoking or drinking, avoiding drug use and sexually transmitted diseases are all really important.”
McCabe agreed. “Women need good preconception and prenatal care, especially if these lifestyle issues are involved,” he said. “Women need to plan their pregnancy and go into it in the best condition they can.”
For more about gastroschisis, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.