Gastroschisis is a condition that can affect a baby while still in the womb. It often affects boys although girls also do get affected. It is actually a birth defect characterized by formation of an opening in the wall of a baby’s abdomen.
The opening can be of any size. It can be as small as 1 inch in diameter or as large as 2 inches. This condition normally develops between 5-8 weeks after conception. Gastroschisis has all along been a rare condition over the past few years but medical facilities across the world are now reporting increased cases of the condition where it affects at least 1 in every 2000 unborn babies.
Gastroschisis can either be simple or complicated. Simple Gastroschisis is where only the bowel protrudes through the resultant abdominal opening. On the other hand, complicated Gastroschisis is characterized by damaged bowel protruding through the opening or incomplete development of the bowels. Complicated Gastroschisis can also involve protrusion of such body organs as liver and stomach.
The fact that the bowel is protruding from an unborn baby’s abdomen means that the bowel is now in the amniotic fluid and therefore unprotected. The protruding bowel and/or organs can therefore become irritated and swollen with increased risk of the bowel and/or organs getting damaged.
It is not clear what causes Gastroschisis. However, the condition is often diagnosed in unborn babies whose expecting mothers are of young maternal age, have short gestation periods and those who smoke cigarettes on a regular basis. Women who indulge in alcohol use recreational medications and those who have low body mass index have also been found to be at risk of having their unborn babies develop the condition. An expecting mother’s sex life is also believed to contribute to development of the condition and in particular women who conceive with different men on different occasions.
Although the actual cause or causes of the condition is/are not clear, development of the condition is linked to disruption of blood supply to a baby’s abdominal wall, which is usually still very weak.
Treating Gastroschisis can be very involving depending on whether it is a simple or complicated case. Proper and correct diagnosis is usually undertaken to differentiate the condition from omphalocele, another condition that is very similar to Gastroschisis except that the former is characterized by development of a sac from a baby’s umbilical cord, a sac that serves to cover and protect intestines that protrude from a baby’s body. Ultrasound, MRI and fetal echocardiogram tests are normally performed to confirm Gastroschisis and to determine whether it is a simple or complicated case.
Treatment is only commenced after delivery of a baby in which case simple Gastroschisis is treated through primary repair, a surgical procedure that involves placing the protruding bowel back to its place in a baby’s abdomen.
Treating complicated Gastroschisis is through staged repair, which refers to several surgical procedures that are performed each day to get protruding bowel and /or organs back in a baby’s body. These procedures can take up to a week to complete.
Technological developments have made it possible for both simple and complicated cases of Gastroschisis to be treated effectively. Indeed 90% of Gastroschisis cases are successfully treated with babies surviving to lead normal life.