Discoveries and Data: Specific Conditions


This category contains 2 major conditions: gastroschisis and omphalocele. The incompletely formed abdominal wall allows internal organs to protrude into the umbilical cord (omphalocele) or to the side of the navel (gastroschisis).

Prenatal screening can detect about 85% of abdominal wall defects. Affected newborns need immediate surgery and intensive hospital care. As the organs are returned to the body, they may crowd the lungs, causing breathing problems.

The size of the defect, the extent of organ protrusion and the presence of other birth defects influence long-term outcome.

Other birth defects are uncommon with gastroschisis; 85% of affected babies survive. In contrast, at least half of babies with omphalocele have heart defects or other birth defects; only about 60% survive to age 1.


Gastroschisis and omphalocele—while both affecting the abdominal wall—are very different conditions arising through unique developmental pathways. They have different occurrence patterns and risk factors. Therefore, accurate classification is critical in the search for causes.

A California study of birth certificate data suggested gastroschisis was on the rise in the 1970s. But this may simply have been because physicians had a growing understanding of the difference between these conditions, and were correctly diagnosing cases previously called omphalocele.

The California Birth Defects Monitoring Program registry includes detailed information abstracted from the medical records, allowing accurate identification and classification of cases. No increasing trend in either gastroschisis or omphalocele has been seen since the registry’s start in 1983.