What is Teratogen?

Article Details
  • Written By: Pamela Pleasant
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
There is a railway line in the hills above Budapest, Hungary, that has been operated by children for over 70 years,  more...

October 13 ,  1943 :  In a major turn of events in World War II, Italy declared war on Germany.  more...

A teratogen refers to any number of diseases and medical problems that can alter the normal growth of a fetus. They can cause birth defects as well as mental problems and they occur during pregnancy. baby. Shortly after a woman becomes pregnant, the fetus becomes susceptible to any medical problem the mother may be experiencing. For example, when a bacterial infection is present, it can travel through the bloodstream and to the fetus. The severity of a teratogen depends on when it occurs during pregnancy.

Pregnancy is typically divided into trimesters, during which the fetus goes through changes as it grows. The organs are being developed and bodily functions also start to happen. During this time, if a specific teratogen is introduced, it can affect growth patterns or cause deformities. For example, when the spinal cord is growing a teratogen can cause an abnormality that result in the inability to walk. If a teratogen attacks a mother while the brain is being formed, then learning disabilities as well as retardation can also occur.


There are various things that can be considered a teratogen. An illness or infection can severely effect a fetus’s growth and some can also do permanent damage. The herpes simplex virus can be spread to the fetus and can cause skin rashes and possible blindness. If the infection is spread to the brain, it can also cause learning disabilities. Chicken pox and shingles are other diseases that can be transmitted to a fetus, where they can cause limbs to develop at different lengths, an unusually small head, or even a miscarriage.

Alcohol is a teratogen that is unfortunately self-induced. When an expecting mother consumes too much alcohol, a host of health problems can occur. Organ growth can be affected and moderate to severe learning disabilities can also occur. The worst case scenario for consuming too much alcohol while pregnant is fetal alcohol syndrome. With this syndrome, the facial features also change and learning and behavioral problems will most likely also be seen.

Certain prescription drugs as well as street drugs are good examples of teratogens, which can be responsible for causing developmental problems. Sometimes these types of drugs may have been taken by the expectant mother even before she knows she was pregnant. Drugs that help with epilepsy, tranquilizers, and blood pressure medication can all cause birth defects or abnormalities. Illegal drugs like amphetamines or cocaine can damage the developing central nervous system.


You might also Like


Discuss this Article

Post 6

I've been mostly vegetarian in diet from childhood. I weight about 105 kg and my height is 170 cm. I've suffered from the primary complex from childhood. What is the cause for my obesity? How do I recover?

Post 4

My brother’s wife slipped into a severe depression after her miscarriage. She started drinking heavily. During this time, she became pregnant again. She did not realize it until she was already four months along, and she felt horrible about what she may have done to her fetus.

The baby was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. He only weighed five pounds at nine months old. His head seemed rather small.

As he grew, we could see that he had small eye openings and flat cheekbones. When he was five, he had his first seizure, and they discovered that he had epilepsy.

In addition to the physical defects, he had trouble making friends. He was hyper, anxious, withdrawn, and had trouble concentrating. He required special classes at school.

Post 3

Though some blood pressure medications, such as ACE inhibitors, can be dangerous to an unborn child, some are safe and even recommended to take during pregnancy. When my sister became pregnant, she did not have to stop taking her blood pressure medicine.

Her doctor told her that she needed it, because without it, she would be at risk for a stroke or heart attack, and high blood pressure could cause problems for her baby. He gave her a specific dose of a certain medicine, and he told her to take it according to his exact instructions.

He also told her that if problems arose, she should not adjust her dose herself or stop taking it. She should always ask him before changing anything.

Post 2

My aunt got pregnant when she was forty years old. She had been experiencing flare-ups of shingles every few years, and she was hoping it wouldn’t happen during her pregnancy.

Sadly, she got her worst case of shingles to date while carrying her unborn baby. She was in so much pain, and there was nothing she could take, because medication could harm the baby.

It’s a tough situation when both medication and the teratogen could be equally harmful to the fetus. The shingles caused her to have a miscarriage. She knew that she was a bit old to be having a baby, but she had begun to look forward to it.

Post 1

My sister became pregnant when she was only sixteen. Unfortunately, she got chicken pox while pregnant. She had never had the disease as a small child, when most people tend to experience it.

Her pediatrician told her that it could affect her baby’s growth, but there was nothing they could do about it. Chicken pox just has to run its course.

When her baby was born, we could tell that his legs were slightly different lengths. Because of this, he would have trouble walking all of his life. It’s so sad that nothing could have been done to prevent it.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?