Birth defects are quite common. Some are minor and cause little, if any, long term problems. Other birth defects are 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, which are known to increase the risk of birth defects such as thalidomide, isotretinoin, and lithium.
- exposure to alcohol — as seen in foetal alcohol syndrome
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Last reviewed: August 2018