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At some point during her pregnancy, virtually every woman ponders the possibility that her baby will arrive with a congenital disorder. Statistically, about six percent of newborns worldwide have a congenital disorder. Although the medical community cannot identify the cause of every congenital disorder, it typically categorizes birth defects into one of four categories. Three of these categories, chromosomal, single-gene and multifactorial, cause genetic disorders, while the fourth category, environment, involves congenital disorders caused by the mother's environment, substance abuse or health. It is impossible to know for certain whether a baby will have a congenital disorder, but there are steps that can help prevent birth defects.
Genetic testing can help identify whether parents carry defective genes that might cause a birth defect. The science, however, is insufficient to identify every possible congenital disorder that has a genetic cause. For this reason, doctors must first obtain information about the patient, her family history of congenital defects and her family's medical history. Genetic testing can be performed before a couple decides to have a child, and if the risks are too great, conception can be avoided.
Once conception occurs, doctors can order diagnostic procedures to check for abnormalities in the fetus. Some congenital disorders will appear on an ultrasound examination. Others, such as spina bifida, may offer clues that are present in the mother's blood. Amniocentesis, a procedure in which a sample of the fluid surrounding the baby is removed with a needle, can also identify some birth defects. Diagnostic procedures cannot catch every congenital disorder though, but when more than one type of test is performed, the success rate typically improves.
Prior to conception, the mother can take steps to help reduce the risk of a congenital defect. A visit to her doctor to discuss a planned pregnancy is recommended; the doctor may prescribe folic acid or vitamin tablets as a means of helping to prevent birth defects. If the prospective mother has not had the measles, her doctor may recommend that she be vaccinated, as contracting the disease during pregnancy can cause birth defects. The doctor will also need to know about any drugs the mother takes, including herbal supplements, prescription medications and non-prescription drugs.
Avoiding congenital defects also means that a pregnant woman should create a nurturing environment within her own body. Illegal drugs should be avoided, and legal medications or supplements should not be taken without the doctor's consent. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause a congenital disorder, so alcohol should be severely limited or avoided. Pregnant women should not be exposed to chemicals such as those contained in paint, and it is wise to avoid others who might be ill with influenza.