What is a Birth Defect?
A birth defect is a structural, functional, or metabolic abnormality present at birth that can lead to serious mental or physical disabilities & sometimes result in death. Although more than 4,000 known birth defects can be treated or cured, they are the leading cause of death in children under one year old.
Environmental Causes of Birth Defects
An estimated 60% of birth defects have unknown causes. Environmental and genetic factors bring about the rest. Environmental factors that cause birth defects are known as teratogens . A teratogen is essentially an external agent such as a drug, chemical, or virus that causes defects in the embryo or fetus.
Common Teratogenic chemicals and environmental pollutants include :
Arsenic (found in some water and pressure-treated wood)
Cadmium (contained in fungicides, certain fabric dyes, glass glazes, and fertilizer)
Lead (usually in the form of lead-based paint)
Mercury (found in a variety of fish)
Organic solvents (chemicals such as degreasers, paint thinners, varnish removers, lacquers, and silk-screening inks)
Chlorinated drinking water
Household cleaning products (if labeled toxic)
Common Teratogenic drugs include:
Certain antibiotics such as tetracycline, streptomycin, and sulfonamides
Benzodiazepines such as tranquilizers and anti-anxiety drugs
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Accutane, retinoids, and other dermatology drugs
Various anti-depressants such as Paxil and Prozac
An infection contracted during pregnancy can also have a Teratogenic effect, causing a variety of birth defects. Rubella, cytomegalovirus (CMV)& various sexually transmitted diseases are common examples.
Types of Birth Defects
The most common birth defects identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include: cleft lip and/or palate, Down syndrome, spina bifida, structural defects of the heart, genitals or urinary tract, Tay-Sachs disease, and Phenylketonuria (PKU)
Birth Defect Prevention
While not all birth defects can be prevented, there are precautions a woman can take to protect herself and her baby from dangerous teratogens and reduce the risk of birth defects. Important preventative measures include avoiding harmful chemicals or substances.
Pregnant women should specifically avoid medications – prescriptions, over the counter, and herbal – that are known teratogens as well as nicotine, alcohol, and street drugs. Of course, a woman should also maintain good physical health throughout her pregnancy.
Most birth defects occur within the first trimester of pregnancy, so pregnant women should consult with their physicians regarding an overall approach to good prenatal health as soon as possible .
If you believe you were exposed to a Teratogenic agents substance during your pregnancy that resulted in a birth defect, you may wish to seek the counsel of competent attorney who can evaluate your case.
Every year approximately 150,000
babies are born with
birth defects. Research
has yet to uncover all the possible
causes of birth defects, but
some of those that are known
can potentially be avoided –
especially those that are attributable
to environmental (non-genetic)