Definition - What does Congenital Anomalies mean?
Congenital anomalies are abnormalities in the structure and/or function of one or several organs or organ systems in the body that occur during the fetal life inside the uterus. Some congenital abnormalities may be detected in the fetus during a pregnancy scan, but often they are diagnosed at birth or potentially even many years later. Congenital anomalies of the reproductive system can lead to a number of fertility-related problems in both men and women.
Congenital anomalies are also known as congenital malformations and birth defects.
FertilitySmarts explains Congenital Anomalies
Disturbances in the intrauterine environment due to abnormalities experienced by the mother as well as fetal factors can give rise to congenital abnormalities. Some of the causes include:
- Genetic abnormalities of the fetus
- Nutritional deficiency in the mother
- Consumption of toxic substances by the mother such as drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
- Maternal infections
- Maternal exposure to radiation and environmental toxins
Structural congenital abnormalities in any part of the reproductive tract of women including the vagina, cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes can affect a woman's ability to naturally conceive a child. Some severe anomalies such as complete absence of the uterus can make them irreversible infertile.
Functional anomalies can alter the hormone release from the brain and ovaries, leading to menstrual and ovulation irregularities that can, in turn, challenge their fertility.
In men, congenital abnormalities can affect the openness of the tubes that carry sperm from the testes to the urethra. A partial blockage may allow some sperm to pass, but complete blockage or absence of tubes on one or both sides can lead to infertility. Congenital abnormalities of the testes and functional anomalies in the hormone-secreting pathways can result in inadequate or absent sperm and/or sex hormone production.
Certain fertility treatment methods such as drugs used to stimulate ovulation and assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) may increase the risk of congenital anomalies.