Birth defects are quite common. Some are minor and cause little, if any, long term problems. Other birth defects can be life threatening or cause significant disability.
Birth defects may affect how the body looks and functions, such as structural problems with bones, skin, nerves or tissues. Examples include cleft lip, spina bifida and neural tube defects. Birth defects can also cause mental disabilities.
Some of the causes of birth defects include:
- genetic problems, inherited from one or both parents
- exposure to chemicals
- exposure to high-risk medicines that are known to increase the risk of birth defects such as thalidomide, isotretinoin and lithium
- exposure to alcohol — as seen in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
Often there is no known cause of a birth defect. Follow the links below to find trusted information about birth defects.
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Last reviewed: August 2020