Birth defect

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A birth defect, also known as a congenital disorder, is an abnormal condition that is present at birth regardless of its cause. Birth defects may result in disabilities that may be physical, intellectual, or developmental. The disabilities can range from mild to severe. Birth defects are divided into two main types: structural disorders in which problems are seen with the shape of a body part and functional disorders in which problems exist with how a body part works. Functional disorders include metabolic and degenerative disorders. Some birth defects include both structural and functional disorders.



WHO Birth defects Key facts (28 February 2022)

  • An estimated 240,000 newborns die worldwide within 28 days of birth every year due to birth defects. Birth defects cause a further 170 000 deaths of children between the ages of 1 month and 5 years.
  • Birth defects can contribute to long-term disability, which takes a significant toll on individuals, families, health care systems and societies.
  • Nine of ten children born with a serious birth defect are in low- and middle-income countries.
  • As neonatal and under-5 mortality rates decline, birth defects become a larger proportion of the cause of neonatal and under-5 deaths.
  • The most common severe birth defects are heart defects, neural tube defects and Down syndrome.
  • Although birth defects may be the result of one or more genetic, infectious, nutritional or environmental factors, it is often difficult to identify the exact causes.
  • Some birth defects can be prevented. Vaccination, adequate intake of folic acid or iodine through fortification of staple foods or supplementation, and adequate care before and during a pregnancy are examples of prevention methods.
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