Abdominal Wall Defects

Abdominal wall defects are birth defects that allow organs such as the intestines or stomach to push out of the body through a hole in the belly. The most common abdominal wall defects are gastroschisis and omphalocele.

With proper and timely treatment, most children survive abdominal wall defects. As the leading pediatric academic health system on Florida’s west coast, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, has expertise in treating defects of the abdominal wall. The intestinal rehabilitation program called CUIRE (Care Under Intestinal Rehabilitation Excellence) at Johns Hopkins All Children’s consists of a team of specialists, including a neonatologist, advanced nurse practitioner, gastroenterologist, pediatric surgeon, intestinal rehabilitation-trained dietitian, pharmacist and speech therapist, all focused on giving patients with abdominal wall defects the best possible outcome. 

Digestive organs such as the intestines or stomach commonly begin growing outside the baby’s abdomen during fetal development. But as the baby grows, the organs generally move in and become enclosed by the abdominal wall. When the wall does not close properly, the baby has an abdominal wall defect. 

What Are the Most Common Abdominal Wall Defects in Fetuses? 

  • Gastroschisis, a hole near the belly button allows the intestines and sometimes other organs to protrude uncovered into the amniotic fluid. Learn more
  • Omphalocele, organs covered by a thin membrane — or sac — protrude through the belly button. An omphalocele is often accompanied by other birth defects and genetic syndromes. You may be referred to one of our genetic specialists for additional testing. Learn more.

What Causes Abdominal Wall Defects? 

Multiple genetic and environmental causes may contribute to abdominal wall defects, but gastroschisis and omphalocele occur in different ways during fetal development. Each develops early in the pregnancy. 

Omphalocele results from an error in digestive tract development. The intestines normally protrude into the umbilical cord during development but recede into the abdomen during the sixth to 10th week of pregnancy. When they do not, an omphalocele results and may allow other organs to protrude. 

The cause of gastroschisis is less well understood, though it may relate to blood flow to the digestive tract early during fetal development. 

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