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Gastroschisis is a congenital birth defect in which the viscera protrude from the abdomen. Classically, gastroschisis involves a protruding loop of bowel, but other organs such as the liver can also be involved. While this condition looks and sounds frightening, it is actually very treatable, and the prognosis can be very good when the pregnancy, delivery, and corrective surgery are handled correctly.
An obstetrician can sometimes diagnose gastroschisis when bloodwork reveals abnormalities, but more commonly it shows up on an ultrasound. The patient will usually be referred to an obstetrician who handles high risk pregnancies because the pregnancy and baby will require special care. In some cases, a caesarian section may be recommended to reduce complications during delivery. Parents should also talk to a neonatal surgeon, a medical practitioner who specializes in caring for neonates, to ensure that their babies will get the best care possible.
Once a baby with gastroschisis is born, a surgeon can tuck the errant viscera back into the body, close the incision, and use a pressure bandage to promote healing. Sometimes, the viscera are swollen 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 into the body over time.
Some babies have difficulty breathing after the surgery, because of the increased abdominal pressure which 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, as he or she will not be able to digest food until the site heals. Once the condition has been addressed and the baby is healed, usually he or she experiences no 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 can develop spontaneously. The biggest 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 linked to gastroschisis. This condition does not appear to be not the fault of the mother, and parents should not blame themselves when a diagnosis of gastroschisis is made. Instead, they should focus on talking to the doctor about the best options for care and treatment so that they can have a healthy baby.