What Is Dysgenesis?

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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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Dysgenesis occurs when an organ fails to develop properly while an infant is in utero. The severity of the condition varies considerably depending on which organ is involved and how malformed it is. In many cases, infants with malformations can expect to live a normal life. Many different factors can lead to dysgenesis, including genetics and exposure to certain chemicals. These disorders are quite common and can affect any organ in the body, though malformations of the heart, central nervous system, urinary tract, and sex organs are some of the most common.

In many cases, dysgenesis is very slight, though malformations can also be severe. Many people have some form of dysgenesis that they are unaware of and unaffected by. The failure of an organ to develop at all, which is called agenesis, is usually much more serious than a case of dysgenesis.

Many different things can cause dysgenesis. The developing fetus can fail to develop properly if it is exposed to certain chemicals, such as some medications, nicotine, or alcohol. Depending on when the fetus is exposed and what it is exposed to, different organs may develop incorrectly. Inheritance can also play a role in dysgenesis as can an abnormal chromosome count.


One of the most common forms of dysgenesis affects the unborn baby’s heart. These deformities account for a large percentage of birth defects and may affect as many as one out of 150 newborns. Not all of these deformities will kill an infant, and a number of the more serious ones can now be treated through surgery. Countries with advanced medical care can often diagnose and treat a congenital heart deformity, and the infant can expect to live a normal, healthy life. In developing nations, however, many infants with a dysgenesis of the heart will die within their first year.

Dysgenesis of the brain or spinal cord affects about 1 in 1,000 infants and can be deadly. Treatment is not often possible for these types of conditions. Malformations of the urinary tract, especially in males, are also quite common and usually treatable so long as all the infant's organs are present. Severe urinary tract malformations can lead to a decrease in the amount of amniotic fluid, however, which can cause potentially fatal respiratory problems. The sex organs can also develop incorrectly, sometimes leading to sterility but rarely threatening the life of the infant.


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