What Is Cloacal Exstrophy?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2019
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Cloacal exstrophy is a rare type of birth defect that causes some of the internal organs to be exposed on the outside of the body. There may also be genital malformations present in both males and females. The exact cause of cloacal exstrophy is not known, but there is not thought to be any way to prevent this condition from developing. Treatment involves a number of surgical procedures that begin as soon as the infant is deemed medically stable and healthy enough to undergo surgery. Any specific questions or concerns about cloacal exstrophy or the most appropriate treatment options for an individual situation should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

In some cases, cloacal exstrophy can be diagnosed through the use of ultrasound technology before the infant is born. Otherwise, the condition is easily diagnosed during the initial physical exam after delivery because the bladder and a portion of the intestines are exposed on the outside of the body. The penis or the clitoris may be split in half, and a female may have two vaginal openings. In some cases, the anus may be sealed shut. It is not uncommon for other birth defects, such as cystic fibrosis or kidney deformities, to be present among those born with cloacal exstrophy.


Treatment for cloacal exstrophy involves a set of surgical procedures that can begin as soon as the infant is declared to be medically stable and healthy enough to undergo anesthesia and withstand the operation. The abdominal opening, known as an omphalocele, is often repaired first, although this can vary from child to child and depends on the individual situation.

The intestinal tract usually requires a great deal of surgical intervention, as the colon tends to be abnormally formed. The anus may not be fully formed, requiring an extensive amount of reconstructive surgery. Another stage of surgery involves the closing of the bladder. Repairing the abnormalities involving the genitalia is usually a separate surgery and may be a bit complicated, as the pelvic bones may be spread apart a lot more than normal.

Prognosis for those with cloacal exstrophy depends on the severity of the symptoms and the success of the various surgical procedures. In many cases, the patient can learn to control the bladder and bowels over a period of time. If other birth defects are also present, ongoing medical care may be necessary. Some people with this condition can eventually have children, although extensive reproductive surgery or fertility treatments may be needed.


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