Congenital Conditions and Diseases

A child with down syndrome being held by his mother

JGI / Tom Grill / Blend Images

Congenital refers to a condition or disease which is present at birth. The condition can be inherited (genetic) or caused by environmental factors.

Some maternal infections, such as HIV, can be passed onto the child and cause a congenital condition. Maternal factors such as alcohol or drug consumption, nutritional intake and placental health can all cause congenital problems


  • Congenital heart defects are those which affect the structure of the heart and the way blood flows through it. Ranging from minor—with no symptoms—to life-threatening, these are the most common type of birth defect
  • Cleft lip and palate, which affect the development of the roof of the mouth and upper lip. A cleft lip can be caused by genes passed down from the parents, environmental toxins, viruses or may occur in concert with other birth defects.
  • Neural tube defects such as spina bifida
  • Down Syndrome caused by an extra chromosome

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about half of all congenital anomalies can be linked to a specific cause, such as infection, malnutrition or alcohol exposure, all of which can lead to abnormal development within the womb. The WHO has pushed member states for better prevention of congenital problems—and the improved care of babies with these conditions—attributing 276,000 newborn deaths worldwide to such anomalies in the year 2013.

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Article Sources

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  • Congenital. US National Institutes of Health Genetic Home Reference Glossary.
  • Congenital Anomalies. World Health Organization Public Information Sheet.
  • What Are Congenital Heart Defects? US NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Public Information Sheet.