What Causes Birth Defects?
For many birth defects, we do not yet know the cause. For birth defects with known causes, most are the result of a chromosomal or genetic abnormality. Less than five percent of all birth defects are caused by known environmental agents.
The UBDN recently studied the records of 5,000 babies born with birth defects in Utah. 18% of the babies had a known genetic condition that caused the birth defect. 0.4% of the mothers were exposed to other environmental conditions that are known to cause birth defects. A small number (0.1%) of the babies had birth defects caused by other factors including twinning. The remaining 81.5% of cases had no known cause.
Preventing birth defects is a crucial and necessary step to improving children’s survival and health. Birth defect prevention requires a combination of: surveillance, to track and assess these conditions; research, to find their causes; and direct prevention services, to ensure that all women and their providers know of effective primary prevention already available, such as periconceptional folic acid to prevent neural tube defects. Tracking birth defect patterns among Utah women is crucial in our efforts to understand the impact of birth defect related infant mortality and to decrease the number of infants that die during their first year of life. It is also important that families have the resources to help them in the difficult times following the tragic loss of their child with birth defects. The UBDN is engaged in activities to help prevent birth defects through surveillance and services, as well as to provide resource information to families who have experienced the death of a baby and their providers.
Utah numbers are consistent with the national average. Because the cause of most birth defects is still unknown, birth defect research must continue.