Birth Defects Gastrointestinal Artresia

Atresia, a closure or absence of a natural passage or orifice in the body, is a birth defect that can affect many parts of the body. In the case of gastrointestinal atresia, the passage of food through various digestive organs can be blocked, preventing the body from processing and extracting nutrients from food, and from excreting waste. Several types of gastrointestinal artresia have been identified.

Esophageal Atresia

The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth and throat to the stomach. When you chew and swallow food, it travels down the esophagus for digestion in the stomach.

Several types of esophageal atresia exist. In some cases, the esophagus narrows significantly, making it difficult for food to pass through. In most cases, however, the esophagus ends and does not connect to the stomach.

Some babies with esophageal atresia may also have a tracheoesophageal fistula, or an abnormal connection between the esophagus and the trachea (windpipe). A baby may choke during its first feedings, and a feeding tube will not be able to be passed all the way to the stomach.

Like some other gastrointestinal defects, esophageal atresia is a very serious condition, and requires surgical treatment immediately. Without treatment, the child often cannot be fed by mouth, as the food does not reach the stomach, and may be aspirated into the lungs through the tracheoesophageal fistula. Early diagnosis and treatment result in better prognosis.

Biliary Atresia

Biliary atresia affects the bile ducts of the liver. Bile is a liquid secreted by the liver that helps to digest fat and to transport wastes from the liver to the intestines. In cases of biliary atresia, bile ducts are blocked, preventing bile from moving into the gall bladder. This backup of bile can quickly lead to liver damage or liver failure.

Symptoms of biliary artresia include:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abnormal stool and urine quality
  • Jaundice (yellowed skin and eyes)
  • Weight loss.

In infants with these symptoms, dye may be injected to follow the movement of bile through the system and detect the blocked bile ducts. Once diagnosed, biliary atresia can be treated with surgery or, in severe cases, liver transplantation. Though surgery and transplantation may improve the outlook for children with biliary atresia, the rarity of the disease means the long-term prognosis remains unknown.

Anal Atresia

Anal atresia affects the anus, or the external opening of the rectum through which solid waste passes out of the body. When an infant has this congenital defect, the anus can be absent or significantly reduced in size. In some cases, it can develop in the wrong place.

Anal atresia is frequently diagnosed after birth, and can usually be surgically corrected. An infant may require a temporary colostomy until the surgery can be performed. A colostomy involves creating an opening in the abdomen so waste can be excreted into a colostomy bag until normal function can be restored.


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