What is gastroschisis?

Gastroschisis is a congenital birth defect in which the viscera protrude from the abdomen. Classically, gastroschisis involves a protruding loop of intestine, but other organs such as the liver may also be involved. While this condition looks and sounds scary, it is actually very treatable, and the prognosis can be very good when pregnancy, childbirth, and corrective surgery are managed correctly.

An obstetrician can sometimes diagnose gastroschisis when blood tests reveal abnormalities, but more often it shows up on an ultrasound. The patient will usually be referred to an obstetrician who manages high-risk pregnancies because the pregnancy and the baby will require special care. In some cases, a C-section may be recommended to reduce complications during delivery. Parents should also talk to a neonatal surgeon, a doctor who specializes in the care of newborns, to make sure their babies receive the best possible care.

Once a baby with gastroschisis is born, a surgeon can place the errant viscera back into the body, close the incision, and use a pressure bandage to promote healing. Sometimes the viscera swell as a result of infection, and it may be necessary to keep some of the viscera outside the body in a sac called a silo, with the surgeon gradually pushing the viscera back into the body over time.

Some babies have difficulty breathing after surgery, due to the increased abdominal pressure that results. For this reason, they are sometimes put on a ventilator in the early stages of healing to help them breathe. It is also necessary to use parental nutrition to feed the baby, since she will not be able to digest food until the site heals. Once the condition has been addressed and the baby is cured, he or she does not usually experience long-term effects.

This condition is also known as laparoschisis, abdominoschisis, or paraomphalocele. It is caused by incomplete fetal development, and there appears to be an inherited component, but other cases may develop spontaneously. The greatest risk factor for gastroschisis is young maternal age, although there is some evidence to suggest that the use of certain medications in early pregnancy is related to gastroschisis. This condition does not appear to be the mother's fault, and parents should not blame themselves when a diagnosis of gastroschisis is made. Instead, they should focus on talking with their doctor about the best care and treatment options so they can have a healthy baby.

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