A congenital disorder is a medical condition which is present at birth. The severity of a congenital disorder varies, depending on its nature; for example, in some cases, the condition may not manifest until much later in life, if ever, and at other times, the disorder is incompatible with life. A variety of things can cause these conditions, with some specific activities on the part of the mother greatly increasing the risk of a congenital disorder.
Many congenital conditions are genetic in nature. Genetic disorders may be passed down from one or both of the parents, or they may be caused by errors in the duplication of chromosomes which cause spontaneous genetic mutations. The risk of genetic problems is obviously increased in families with a history of this disorder, and it is also elevated in older parents, as they are more likely to pass down imperfectly duplicated chromosomes. A congenital disorder can also be caused by problems with morphogensis, meaning that the problem arises during the development of the fetus. Exposure to toxins during pregnancy is a major risk factor for errors in fetal development.
When a congenital disorder causes an obvious physical problem, it may be known as an anomaly, or a malformation. Anomalies are abnormal, but not necessarily harmful; growing a sixth finger, for example, is an anomaly. Malformations, on the other hand, can cause problems. You may also hear congenital malformations referred to as birth defects.
Genetic disorders may manifest at birth, as in the case of conditions characterized by abnormal numbers of chromosomes. In other instances, genetic disorders may become apparent later in life; sometimes people live totally unaware of such disorders until they undergo routine testing for something else. It is also possible for a congenital problem to take the form of a metabolic condition or a disease.
Treatment options for congenital disorders vary. Anomalies and malformations can sometimes be corrected with surgery, while diseases and some genetic conditions are sometimes manageable with medication. Some patients may require life-long care for congenital conditions, some of which are associated with a very low life expectancy.
Parents should not necessarily blame themselves for congenital disorders, because many are spontaneous and unpredictable. If a family has a history of genetic problems, genetic testing to look for deleterious genes might be advisable. Pregnant mothers should also avoid obvious risk factors like chemical exposure and smoking during pregnancy, while eating a nutritious diet to promote healthy fetal development. Regular prenatal care is also highly recommended for expecting parents, to ensure that signs of any problems with the pregnancy are caught as quickly as possible.