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Fetal Conditions

Fetal conditions occur as your unborn baby develops in the womb. These conditions are also known as congenital, meaning a child is born with them. Some fetal conditions are genetic, or inherited from a parent. Most fetal conditions occur for no known reason. 

Specialists at the Fetal Care Center use the latest diagnostic technology to identify fetal problems. Early diagnosis is critical to ensuring you and your unborn baby receive appropriate medical care. 

Treating Fetal Conditions at the Fetal Care Center 

Babies with certain birth defects may benefit from fetal surgery. Our experts perform these highly complex procedures while your baby is still in the womb. Learn more about fetal surgery.

For other fetal conditions, treatment may start soon after birth. Unfortunately, not all fetal conditions are treatable.

At the Fetal Care Center, our high-risk pregnancy specialists diagnose and treat some of the most complex fetal conditions, including: 

  • Abdominal defects
  • Amniotic sac problems
  • Chest and lung conditions 
  • Chromosomal disorders
  • Craniofacial defects
  • Extremity and skeletal abnormalities
  • Gastrointestinal abnormalities
  • Heart disease
  • Neurological conditions
  • Renal abnormalities
  • Tumors and growths
  • Twin conditions

Abdominal defects

  • Congenital diaphragmatic hernia: An opening in the diaphragm muscle separating the chest cavity and lungs 
  • Gastroschisis: An opening in the abdominal wall 
  • Omphalocele: Intestines or other organs protrude through an abdominal opening 
  • Cloacal exstrophy: An opening in the abdominal wall that exposes the bladder and intestines 

Amniotic sac problems

  • Amniotic band syndrome: Torn strands of tissue from the amniotic sac wrap around an unborn baby, affecting blood flow, nerves and tissue development

Chest and lung conditions

  • Bronchopulmonary sequestration: Abnormal tissue in or near the unborn baby’s lungs
  • Congenital high airway obstruction syndrome: A blockage of the windpipe (trachea) or voice box (larynx)
  • Congenital lobar emphysema: Overinflated lungs because air cannot escape 
  • Congenital pulmonary airway malformation: Abnormal lung development
  • Pleural effusion: Excess fluid around the lungs

Chromosomal disorders

  • Down syndrome (trisomy 21): A condition that causes intellectual disabilities, heart defects, vision and hearing problems, and poor muscle tone 
  • Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18): A condition that causes slow fetal growth, low birth weight, abnormally shaped head, small mouth and jaw, intellectual disabilities, and heart and organ defects
  • Patau syndrome (trisomy 13): A condition that can cause intellectual disabilities, defects of the heart, brain or spinal cord, vision problems, cleft lip, cleft palate and poor muscle tone 

Craniofacial (head and neck) defects

  • Cleft lip and cleft palate: A split or opening in a baby’s lip or roof of the mouth (palate)
  • Congenital High Airway Obstruction Syndrome (CHAOS): A blockage in the windpipe (trachea) or voice box (larynx) that prevents an unborn baby from releasing lung fluid and prevents a newborn from taking in oxygen
  • Neck masses: Lesions, such as lymphangioma (sometimes called cystic hygroma) or teratoma (noncancerous tumor), that can make breathing difficult for a baby after birth

Extremity and skeletal abnormalities

  • Amelia: Shrunken, deformed or missing limbs
  • Clubfoot and vertical talus: A baby’s foot or feet turn inward or outward
  • Fibular hemimelia: A partially or completely missing fibula bone in the lower leg 
  • Skeletal dysplasia: A group of bone and cartilage disorders that affects the formation of the skeleton, causing shortened or missing limbs, or bones that are fragile, thin or thick. These disorders include osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bones), achondroplasia (shortened limbs), thanatophoric dysplasia (shortened limbs) and campomelic dysplasia (curved bones).

Gastrointestinal abnormalities

  • Duodenal atresia: Complete or partial blockage of the duodenum, the segment of the small intestine that connects to the stomach
  • Esophageal atresia: The upper esophagus does not connect with the lower esophagus and stomach
  • Fetal bowel obstruction: Complete or partial intestinal blockage 
  • Tracheoesophageal fistula: The esophagus and trachea are not properly connected, allowing fluids to enter the airway and interfere with breathing

Heart disease

  • Atrial septal defect: A hole in the wall that separates the heart’s upper chambers
  • Atrioventricular canal defect: A large hole in the heart’s center that allows oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood to mix. This condition is common in children who have Down syndrome.
  • Coarctation of the aorta: A narrowing of the major artery, the aorta, that carries blood to the body
  • Congenital heart disease: The heart does not develop properly during early pregnancy
  • Double outlet right ventricle: The aorta connects to the right ventricle instead of the left ventricle
  • Heterotaxy syndrome: A heart defect combined with organ defects, such as abnormal placement of the stomach, intestines, liver or lungs  
  • Hypoplastic left heart syndrome: The left side of the heart does not properly form
  • Tetralogy of Fallot: A combination of four heart defects that affects the heart’s structure and blood flow
  • Transposition of the great arteries (with or without intact ventricular septum): The two major blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart are switched
  • Ventricular septal defect: A hole in the wall that separates the heart’s two lower chambers
  • Rhythm abnormalities: Problems that affect the heart’s rhythm, such as supraventricular tachycardia and heart block

Neurological conditions

  • Agenesis of the corpus callosum: A band of brain tissue is missing or partially formed
  • Encephalocele: An opening in the skull that allows part of the brain and its membrane cover to protrude
  • Hydrocephalus: Excess cerebrospinal fluid in the brain
  • Spina bifida: An opening in the spine that exposes the spinal cord
  • Vein of Galen malformation: An abnormality of the blood vessels in the center of the brain 

Renal abnormalities

Tumors and growths

  • Lymphangioma: Benign (noncancerous) tumors of the lymphatic system often located in the neck 
  • Neuroblastoma: Cancerous tumors typically found in the adrenal gland
  • Sacrococcygeal teratoma: A tumor that grows from the tailbone (coccyx) of an unborn baby 

Twin conditions

  • Conjoined twins: Babies whose skin and organs are fused together
  • Selective Intrauterine Growth Restriction: The babies do not share the placenta equally, leading one twin to experience growth problems.
  • Twin reversed arterial perfusion sequence: One of the unborn babies did not fully form and is impeding blood flow to the other twin
  • Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome: One unborn baby gets too much blood flow while the other does not get enough blood

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University fetal care specialist at the Women & Infants Center, call 855-925-0631.