Omphalocele – What it is, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Support

Omphalocele is a rare birth defect/condition that occurs in 1 out of every 5,000 newborns across the world. It is similar to Gastroschisis except for one thing: while omphalocele involves protrusion of part or whole of a baby’s intestines and associated organs through the navel in a protected sac, Gastroschisis involves protrusion of the bowel including intestines and associated organs through an opening on a baby’s abdominal wall, the navel is not involved.

It also happens that omphalocele leads to protrusion of bowel tissue and organs that remain protected in a sac and therefore are not exposed to amniotic fluid. This differs from Gastroschisis cases where protruding tissue and organs remain exposed in the fluid. Similarly, babies with omphalocele turn out to be a risk of other complications compared to those diagnosed with Gastroschisis.

Like with Gastroschisis, occurrence of omphalocele starts early when you conceive. It has been established that newborns diagnosed with Gastroschisis are of young women. Babies diagnosed with omphalocele happen to be of older women.


The main symptom of omphalocele is protrusion of a sac through a baby’s navel. The sac can contain a baby’s intestines or intestines and other organs including the liver.

The condition can be mild where only a small portion of intestines protrudes or severe where the protruding sac contains intestines and other organs. How much intestines and organs protrude is determined by how small or large the navel opens.


Like with Gastroschisis, omphalocele is associated with incomplete development of abdominal cavity when it fails to develop fully. The fetus normally develops abdominal cavity (wall) at four weeks, after which it unfolds. Omphalocele occurs when the fetus unfolds when the abdominal cavity is not fully developed with the navel only covered by a thin membrane that eventually breaks to leave an opening in the navel, which leads to the condition.

Occurrence of omphalocele is also linked to certain genetic disorders including Patau and Edward’s syndromes, which are hereditary.
The fact that your newborn is diagnosed with omphalocele should be a cause for worry. This is because of associated risks.
About 50% of babies born with the condition do remain at risk of developing other complications even when they receive appropriate treatment. Some of the risks they face include herniation of the liver, small belly and small lungs.


Occurrence of omphalocele can be detected at 20 weeks of pregnancy. Fetal ultrasound, fetal MRI and fetal echocardiogram tests can be undertaken to detect and diagnose the condition. You are bound to receive counseling and proper pregnancy management techniques in case test results confirm that your unborn has indeed developed the condition.

Actual treatment is normally commenced soon after delivery in case the condition is mild and is your baby is in good health. Treatment for severe cases is normally postponed until a baby attains age of at least 3 months.
Treatment involves surgical procedures with number of procedures to be undertaken determined by whether it is a mild or severe case. A minor care only requires what is referred to as primary repair, which involves placing the protruding part of intestines back to place and closing navel opening. Treating severe omphalocele involves what is referred to as staged repair, which involves several surgical procedures performed on different days apart.


Babies diagnosed with omphalocele and receive treatment are usually monitored after discharge. This is usually with the aim of helping such babies receive the necessary support that they need. You are also bound to continue receiving a lot of support as the mother to help you care for your baby properly. A number of support programs are indeed available in different countries, programs that benefit parents and family members with such babies.

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